Theresa May, the tough-talking Oxford-educated home secretary, will take over as Britain’s next prime minister on Wednesday after a leadership contest was cut short on Monday when rival Andrea Leadsom pulled out of the race amid controversies.
May, 59, launched her campaign for leadership of the Conservative Party in Birmingham, but Leadsom announced her withdrawal from the race soon after in London.
Also on Monday, Angela Eagle announced her leadership bid to replace Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour Party leader.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he would chair his last cabinet meeting on Tuesday and appear at his last Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon. Thereafter, he will go to Buckingham Palace to resign, paving the way for May’s installation in 10, Downing Street, by Wednesday evening.
British politics has been in turmoil since the June 23 vote to exit the European Union, which resulted in Cameron’s resignation. His replacement was to be announced on September 9, but the process was expedited by Leadsom’s withdrawal.
The shortening of the process will be welcome news for business and finance, which suffered several shocks after the Brexit vote and clamoured for political certainty. The pound emerged stronger after Leadsom withdrew.
Labour and Liberal Democrats demanded a mid-term election to settle several issues, including giving voters another chance to vote on the issue of Brexit. Besides a legal challenge, there is a strong demand that parliament should have the final say on Brexit.
Jon Trickett, Labour’s election coordinator and a member of the shadow cabinet, said: “It is crucial, given the instability caused by the Brexit vote, that the country has a democratically elected prime minister. I am now putting the whole of the party on a general election footing.”
Leadsom’s withdrawal came after she faced abuse over the weekend for her comments to The Times that she had a better claim to prime ministership because she was a mother, unlike May, who does not have children.
The level of abuse is said to have shocked Leadsom, who apologised to May, and finally decided to issue a statement on Monday outside her London house. She, however, did not refer to the row, and extended full support to May.
Leadsom, who campaigned for Brexit, said: “Strong leadership is needed urgently to begin the work of withdrawing from the European Union. A nine-week leadership campaign at such a critical moment is highly undesirable.”
She said May had the support of more than 60% of Conservative MPs and was “ideally placed to implement Brexit on the best possible terms for the British people and she has promised she will do so”.
“There is no greater privilege than to lead the Conservative Party in government and I would have been deeply honoured to do it. I have however concluded that the interests of our country are best served by the immediate appointment of a strong and well-supported prime minister. I am therefore withdrawing from the leadership election, and I wish Mrs May the very greatest success.”