Theresa May is to be the UK’s second female Prime Minister, after her only remaining rival, Andrea Leadsom, sensationally dropped out of the race to succeed David Cameron.
Mrs Leadsom – who had admitted she was “shattered” by the experience of intense media scrutiny since securing the second place on the ballot paper in the leadership contest – said she had decided she did not have sufficient support among MPs “to lead a strong and stable government”.
Mrs May swiftly received backing 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 said he had to consult with the party’s board before formally confirming that Mrs May was leader, but there seemed no doubt that she will soon be moving into 10 Downing Street.
Mr Brady was unable to say whether he would be able to confirm her leadership by the end of the day or this week.
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”.
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.
“Theresa will do everything she can to equip our country for the challenges that lie ahead,” said Mr Grayling.
Mrs Leadsom announced that she was quitting the contest shortly after apologising to the Home Secretary over an interview in which she appeared to suggest that the fact she was a mother gave her the edge over the childless Mrs May as a future PM.
Mr Gove, who came third in the leadership ballot among Tory MPs, pledged his backing to Mrs May, saying: “Andrea Leadsom spoke with great dignity and courage today. I wish her every success in the future.
“We should now move as quickly as possible to ensure Theresa May can take over as leader. She has my full support as our next Prime Minister.”
And Mr Johnson – who abandoned an expected tilt for the leader’s job after realising he faced competition from both Mrs Leadsom and Mr Gove – said he had “no doubt” that Mrs May would make an excellent party leader and PM.
Mr Johnson said: “Theresa May will provide the authority and the leadership necessary to unite the Conservative Party and take the country forward in the coming weeks and months.
“Andrea’s decision, which is both brave and principled, allows that process to begin immediately.
“I have no doubt Theresa will make an excellent party leader and Prime Minister and I’m encouraged that she’s made it clear that Brexit means Brexit – that we will leave the EU.
“It is vital that we respect the will of the people and get on with exploiting new opportunities for this country.”