Britain is to have a second woman Prime Minister, with Theresa May the overwhelming favourite to fill Margaret Thatcher’s shoes, reports Daily Mail.
On a historic day at Westminster, Tory MPs whittled down the list of contenders to just Mrs May and junior energy minister Andrea Leadsom.
It means Britain will have a woman Prime Minister for the first time since Lady Thatcher left office 26 years ago.
In a dramatic vote, Mrs May won the support of 199 of her Parliamentary colleagues – 115 more than Mrs Leadsom, who was little known until her meteoric rise only a few weeks ago.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove crashed out of the contest with only 46 votes.
MPs said his demise marked the ‘end of the Notting Hill set’, which also includes David Cameron and George Osborne.
The Tory Party’s estimated 150,000 members will now choose who will replace Mr Cameron in Downing Street. The result will be announced on September 9.
Last night, there was speculation the date for the leadership decision could be brought forward. A letter calling for a faster timetable, circulated by ex-party chairman Grant Shapps, had attracted the signatures of 40 MPs.
There is agitation among some MPs that the current timetable has been designed so Mr Cameron can attend the G20 summit in China in early September before standing down. One said: ‘With all the uncertainty at the moment, the sooner we get a new PM the better.’
Mrs May can boast six years in the Home Office protecting national security.
Her frontbench career began in 1998 and has included stints as Tory chairman and shadow ministerial posts on transport, education, welfare and culture.
Her rival, by contrast, was only elected in 2010 and has held two junior ministerial posts in the energy department and Treasury, where officials were scathing about her record. She made her name campaigning for Brexit, appearing in two TV debates.
Senior Tory Party figures say that, amid the post-Brexit economic uncertainty, it is vital to have a proven ‘heavyweight’ inside No 10.
But ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who is backing Mrs Leadsom, said: ‘I am incredibly proud of my party because today we have two strong woman candidates going to the country, we will have a woman PM and it is the Conservative Party yet again. It says to women all over the country you can get to the top.’
Yesterday, Mrs May said she would unite the party and ‘make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’.
Chris Grayling, who campaigned for Brexit, said only Mrs May had the ‘right experience both domestically and internationally’ to run the country. He added: ‘We need someone who can step into the PM’s shoes and have the credibility to get on with the job right away.’
Close allies of Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne are also now lined up with Mrs May.
Mr Gove’s support fell by two MPs from his first-round performance, despite an effort to persuade supporters of Mrs May to lend him their votes, in order to block Mrs Leadsom’s progress. He never recovered from the view among some Tory MPs that he had behaved ‘treacherously’ towards Boris Johnson by abandoning the former London mayor’s leadership campaign last week and running himself.
Last night, Mr Johnson attended a campaign event with Mrs Leadsom. He said: ‘She is now well placed to win and replace the absurd gloom in some quarters with a positive, confident and optimistic approach, not just to Europe, but to government all round.’
Former immigration minister Damian Green, a campaign spokesman for Mrs May, said she had secured a ‘smashing victory’. He added: ‘The size of the vote for Theresa, and the gap to her next rival are much bigger than we have ever seen in the past. That sends a very clear signal to the membership that the parliamentary party can be united by Theresa, as can the country.’
But Tory MP Steve Baker, who is backing Mrs Leadsom, said she could be the ‘insurgent’ candidate.
The two camps clashed yesterday over residency rights for the 2.2million EU citizens living in the UK – with Mrs May’s team saying their rival wanted to give residency to scores of criminals. Mrs Leadsom said: ‘People need certainty and they will get it – I say to all who are legally here that you will be welcome to stay.’
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said he was supporting Mrs Leadsom. He tweeted: ‘Important the next PM is a Brexiteer – she has my backing.’
Andrea Leadsom faced further damaging questions about her CV last night as she stormed into the final two in the Tory leadership race.
A former City colleague said that despite a claim that she had been a senior figure in the investment world, Mrs Leadsom had been in charge of no more than ‘pay and rations’.
Backers of her bid to be party leader and Prime Minister have claimed she ‘managed funds’ and large teams of employees while working in the finance sector for 25 years.
But Robert Stephens, who worked with her at investment manager Invesco Perpetual, said she had been no more than a ‘part-time assistant to the chief investment officer’.
Yesterday energy minister Mrs Leadsom dismissed ‘ridiculous’ criticism of her pre-politics career, insisting her CV is ‘all absolutely true’.
But she was forced to admit she had never managed investment funds during her time at Invesco Perpetual between 1999 and 2009.