Sir Vince Cable has revealed he will stand down as leader of the Liberal Democrats in May.
The 75-year-old, who has been leader of the party since 2017, said in a message to party members: “I indicated last year that once the Brexit story had moved on, and we had fought this year’s crucial local elections in 9,000 seats across England, it would be time for me to make way for a new generation.
“I set considerable store by having an orderly, business-like succession, unlike the power struggles in the other parties.
“So I wanted you, our members, to know that, assuming parliament does not collapse into an early general election, I will ask the party to begin a leadership contest in May.”
Sir Vince, who plans to remain the MP for Twickenham in southwest London, had in the past said he would not step aside until “Brexit is resolved or stopped”.
Announcing his decision to go, he said “it is now clear that Brexit will be postponed, and very possibly stopped”.
Sir Vince succeeded Tim Farron in the wake of the snap election, assuming the role unopposed.
A business secretary in the 2010-15 coalition government with David Cameron’s Conservatives, he is the party’s oldest ever leader – and the oldest of any party since Sir Winston Churchill, who was 80 when he stepped down as Tory leader.
After Sir Vince announced his decision, senior Lib Dems paid tribute to his leadership.
Deputy leader Jo Swinson, who will be seen as an early favourite to succeed him, wrote on Twitter: “Vince has been a voice of reason in unreasonable times.
“He has led the party with calm authority in our campaign for a people’s vote and has laid the foundations for us to build on as we fight not only against Brexit but for a brighter future for our country.
“It has been an honour to work with Vince for a more open, liberal & tolerant Britain. He has helped @LibDems through challenges of last two years & led us to some of our best local election results in a decade – and I’m confident we’ll celebrate another strong set of wins in May.”
Layla Moran, the party’s education spokesperson, tweeted: “Vince has just announced that, unless the country collapses into an early GE, he will be calling a new leadership election in may.
“@vincecable I want you to know how grateful I am for all you’ve done. Thank you so much for your service to the party and Brexit.”
Sir Vince said the party’s spring conference in York would allow members to make the leadership contest the “biggest and most open leadership election British politics has ever seen”, adding: “It’s a real opportunity for our party to seize the radical and liberal centre of British politics.”
The upcoming leadership contest means the Lib Dems, who currently have 11 MPs, are searching for their fourth leader in four years.
The party experienced an electoral backlash after going into government with the Tories under Nick Clegg, seeing their number of MPs reduce from 57 in 2010 to just eight five years later.
Sir Vince was one of the 48 Lib Dems to lose their seats, but he regained Twickenham two years later.