Theresa May says she'll quit as UK Conservative leader on June 7, sparking contest for Britain's next prime minister. Picture: Yui Mok/PA via AP

London - Theresa May has presented herself as a no-nonsense guardian of the "will of the people" since Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016 and the ruling Conservatives appointed her prime minister one month later.

May had formally supported the efforts of her predecessor, David Cameron, to keep Britain in the European Union, but the EU "Remainer" largely waited in the wings until Cameron fell on his sword after voters failed to back him in the referendum.

The 62-year-old former home secretary built her political reputation as a strict upholder of law and order, epitomizing her strength of character in a speech she gave in 2014 to a hostile, male-dominated audience of Police Federation members.

May said that the police's working culture had to change, highlighting racism and citing officers who - while investigating a woman's report of domestic violence - "accidentally recorded themselves calling the victim a 'slag' and a 'bitch.'"

The daughter of a Church of England vicar, May has been married since 1980 and has no children.

She was first elected to parliament in 1997, rising to a top ministerial post in a Cameron-led coalition government in 2010.

May has been criticised - as home secretary and later as prime minister - for her "hostile environment" policy for illegal migrants and for failing to keep her government's promise to reduce Britain's annual net migration to below 100 000 people.

Her lack of engagement in the debate ahead of the Brexit referendum led some observers to speculate about a more calculating side to her character.

Outspoken pro-EU lawmaker Anna Soubry, who resigned from the Conservatives to oppose May's Brexit plan, launched a rare personal attack on her in February.

Soubry said she believed the party was "drifting to the right wing of British politics" under May. She told the BBC she believed May had "a problem with immigration."

May was constantly undermined by eurosceptic and pro-EU Conservative rebels in her efforts to deliver the orderly Brexit she had promised.

Her fatal mistakes, according to many, were her decision to call a snap election in mid-2017 and then - after surprisingly losing her majority in parliament - make a deal for Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her minority government.

Caught between intransigent hard-liners in her own party and the DUP on one side, and tough Brussels technocrats on the other, May seemed increasingly desperate as she repeatedly sought additional EU assurances in a bid to swing the Brexiteers behind her deal.

In a final effort to persuade the rebels to back her, she offered to step down as soon as a Brexit deal was concluded. But even that was not enough for many eurosceptics.

Steve Baker, the influential deputy chairman of some 80 eurosceptic lawmakers, joined his colleagues in watching May's speech to the party in March.

Baker reportedly told his group later that he was "consumed with a ferocious rage after that pantomime," vowing not to back the deal.

After facing revolts for more than two years, May won some sympathy from those who see her as a dogged fighter.

"I get on quite well with her, and at times her stubbornness was tremendous because I agree with her - so she was terrific in seeing off some of the things our colleagues wished to do," veteran Conservative lawmaker Ken Clarke told the BBC.

May says she is "not a showy politician." She has portrayed herself as a dedicated, hard-working public servant intent on delivering what the British people voted for in 2016.

Her frequent repetition of slogans like "Brexit means Brexit" and "strong and stable government" earned her the nickname "Maybot."

She apparently tried to dispel that image of rigidity by dancing with local youngsters during televised visits to Kenya and South Africa in August.

After some viewers had laughed at her awkward movement, May sashayed into October's Conservative conference to the sound of ABBA's 'Dancing Queen.'

She occasionally joked in parliament, sometimes making fun of herself, but more often sending scathing barbs at opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

During a recent radio phone-in, the cricket fan was asked which of prolific Yorkshire and England opening batsman Geoff Boycott's reputed qualities of resilience, stubbornness and bloody-mindedness she most identified with.

"Well, Ken Clarke once described me as a bloody difficult woman," May replied.

That "bloody difficult woman" was unable to deliver on Brexit and finally accepted on Friday she had to pass on the task to another, with her time as Conservative leader ending on June 7.