Interior minister Theresa May and eurosceptic rival Andrea Leadsom emerged on Thursday as the two candidates who will battle to become Britain’s next prime minister and lead the country out of the European Union.
May increased her lead from 165 in the first round on Tuesday to 199 in the 330-member strong Conservative Party. Leadsom won 88 and Michael Gove took just 46 votes. After finishing third, Gove was eliminated.
Over 150,000 members of the party will now vote to decide whether May or Leadsom becomes Britain’s first woman prime minister since Margaret Thatcher was forced from office in 1990.
The winner, to be announced on September 9, will take over as the party leader and prime minister to replace David Cameron.
There is also the possibility that Leadsom may withdraw from the contest, which will result in May being declared the winner earlier.
Prime Minister David Cameron said last month he was stepping down after EU referendum resulted in a vote to leave the 28-bloc union.
The government led by the next prime minister will initiate the two-year process of exiting from the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty.
Interior minister May, 59, has served for the past six years in one of the toughest portfolios in government. Leadsom, 53, is a junior energy minister who has never served in cabinet.
Delighted at the result, May said she had received support from ‘Remainers’ as well as ‘Brexiters’ and promised to reunite the party riven by the bruising referendum campaign. She has promised to set up a separate department to deal with Brexit negotiations.
May’s support in the parliamentary party includes MPs of Indian origin, such as Alok Sharma, who campaigned to remain in the EU and minister of state Priti Patel, who was one of the leading lights of the Brexit campaign.
“Theresa has experience from private sector and fantastic experience at the very top of government. She will command respect from Delhi to Dublin, from Brussels to Beijing,” Sharma told HT.
“I believe serious times call for a serious candidate. Someone who is highly competent. Someone who will command respect on the international stage”, he added.
“Theresa May is the only candidate best placed to deliver and there is no other candidate who comes close to her experience, or has a record of strong leadership. She shares the steely determination I always admired in Margaret Thatcher,” Patel said in a statement.
“Equally important will be the need to unite our party and our country. We must end the tribalism and divisions seen in the Referendum between Leave and Remain and focus on defining our place in the world and putting core Conservative principles and values into action”, she added.
(With inputs from agencies)