Theresa May is on the verge of becoming Britain’s second woman prime minister after Andrea Leadsom quit the race to be Conservative leader.
Giving a statement outside her home, Mrs Leadsom confirmed she was abandoning her Conservative leadership bid after a weekend of bruising headlines.
She said Mrs May was “ideally placed” to negotiate Britain’s departure from the EU and said the “best interests of the country” would be served by the prompt appointment of a new Prime Minister.
Mrs Leadsom said she had been inspired to run “the best interests of our country”.
She 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 for our country is highly undesirable.”
Mrs Leadsom said EU migrants and the UK businesses which employ them needed certainty over the implications of Brexit.
She admitted she did not believe she could lead a “strong and stable” Conservative government having earned the support of less than a quarter of the parliamentary party.
“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.”
Graham Brady, the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 committee which is overseeing the leadership contest, said Mrs May had yet to be confirmed as party leader and the Conservative Party board would be consulted today.
However he also insisted there was no question of rerunning the leadership election.
Keighley MP Kris Hopkins said: “I want to commend Andrea for her dignified comments in setting out why she believes it is in the United Kingdom’s best interests to have a new Prime Minister in place at the earliest opportunity.
“I am proud to have been a member of Theresa May’s campaign team and know she will make an outstanding leader of our country.
“Having worked with her over the last six years, I have seen the many qualities that she will bring as our second female Prime Minister.
“We are in the midst of one of the most uncertain periods in our nation’s history following the decision to leave the European Union.
“I have no doubt that Theresa is the right person at the right time to negotiate the best possible deal for the United Kingdom, and take on the many other challenges we face as a society.”
Earlier this morning, in the first major speech of her leadership election campaign, Mrs May said she was setting out a “vision of a country that works not for the privileged few, but for every one of us”.
She also seeked to reassure Conservative members concerned about her support for the Remain campaign in the EU referendum, promosing their would be no attempt to reverse the vote to leave.
Her speech, referring to the insecurities faced by ordinary families, tougher action on corporate taxation and the need for an industrial strategy, immediately drew comparisons with those made by former Labour leader Ed Miliband ahead of last year’s General Election.
Mrs May said: “If you’re from an ordinary working class family life is just much harder than many people in politics realise.
“You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home but you worry about mortgage rates going up. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and the quality of the local school because there is no other choice for you.
“These are the reasons why under my leadership the Conservative Party will put itself completely, absolutely unequivocally at the service of ordinary working people.”