Theresa May is set to be Britain’s second female prime minister after her only remaining rival, Andrea Leadsom, dramatically dropped out of the race to succeed David Cameron.
Mrs May quickly received support from leading Brexit supporters Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, and the chairman of the Conservatives’ backbench 1922 committee, Graham Brady, said there was no need for the leadership contest to be re-run.
Mr Brady was not able to say whether he would be able to confirm her leadership by the end of the day or later this week.
Mrs May and Mrs Leadsom had been due to contest a ballot of around 150,000 Conservative party members, with the result to be declared by September 9.
In a statement accepting that Mrs May has effectively been chosen as Tory leader, the Home Secretary’s campaign manager, Chris Grayling, said she was “enormously honoured to have been entrusted with this task”.
“Theresa will do everything she can to equip our country for the challenges that lie ahead,” said Mr Grayling.
Mrs May, who launched her national campaign with a speech in Birmingham just moments before Mrs Leadsom’s withdrawal, was travelling back to London to make a statement.
Announcing her withdrawal from the leadership contest, Mrs Leadsom said a nine-week leadership campaign at such a critical time for the UK would be ‘highly undesirable’.
The energy minister – who entered Parliament in 2010 and has never held a Cabinet post – admitted that she had been “shattered” by the experience of intensive media scrutiny, which involved questions about apparent inaccuracies on her CV and demands for her to publish her tax returns.
Her campaign got off to a disastrous start after she was forced to apologise to Mrs May for a newspaper interview in which she appeared to suggest that being a mother gave her an edge over the childless Home Secretary as a future prime minister.
Speaking on the steps of her campaign HQ in Westminster today, Mrs Leadsom said she had decided she did not have sufficient support among MPs “to lead a strong and stable government”.
She said: “The Conservative Party was elected only last year with a strong manifesto. We now need a new prime minister in place as soon as possible, committed to fulfilling that manifesto as well as implementing the clear instructions from the referendum.”
“Theresa May carries over 60% of support from the Parliamentary party. She is ideally placed to implement Brexit on the best possible terms for the British people and she has promised that she will do so.”
Boris Johnson has said he has “no doubt Theresa (May) will make an excellent party leader and Prime Minister” and called for the handover of power to begin “immediately”.
Mrs May, 59, who has served as interior minister for the past six years, is now set to become Britain’s second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher, although it was not clear how soon that would happen.
Graham Brady, head of the 330-strong Conservative faction in parliament, said there were still constitutional procedures to be observed before her appointment could be confirmed, but he aimed to make a confirmation announcement as soon as possible.