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May and Leadsom in two-way tussle for Tory leadership

Britain will have female PM after Gove dumped from contest

By David Hughes

Published 08/07/2016

Theresa May
Theresa May
Andrea Leadsom

Britain's next prime minister will be a woman, after Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom took the top two slots in a crucial vote of Conservative MPs.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove was eliminated from the contest to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader, taking just 46 votes in the second-round ballot at Westminster.

Home Secretary Mrs May, who remains in pole position with 199 votes - well over half of the 330 Conservative MPs - said her victory showed she could "unite our party and our country".

Energy minister Mrs Leadsom, whose leadership ambitions were boosted after playing a major role in the Brexit campaign, won the backing of 84 of her fellow MPs.

But the final decision on which of them will become the UK's second female prime minister, after Margaret Thatcher, will be made by Conservative Party members in a postal ballot due to end on September 9. Mrs May said: "This vote shows that the Conservative Party can come together - and under my leadership it will.

"I have said all along that this election needs to be a proper contest. And now it is time for me - and my team - to put my case to the Conservative Party membership.

"That case comes down to three things. Because we need strong, proven leadership to negotiate the best deal for Britain as we leave the European Union, to unite our party and our country, and to make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us.

"Those are the things my colleagues have voted for in overwhelming numbers today, and I am confident they will win the support of our members - and the country as a whole."

Mr Gove, who won the backing of two fewer MPs than in the first round of voting, said he was "naturally disappointed" that his leadership bid had failed, but welcomed the fact that the next PM would be a woman.

He said: "Whoever the next prime minister of this country will be, it will be a female prime minister and a female prime minister who has formidable skills and I know whichever one of the two wins they will lead this country well."

While Mrs May enjoys a clear advantage among Tories at Westminster, she will be acutely aware that Mrs Leadsom could attract votes from Eurosceptic activists who want a 'Brexit prime minister' to oversee withdrawal negotiations.

Although signed up to the Remain camp, Mrs May maintained a low profile during the referendum, and sought to neutralise the issue as she launched her leadership bid by making clear she would not seek to overturn the result and declaring: "Brexit is Brexit."

Mrs May insisted she had won support from MPs from across the party "left and right, leavers and remainers". The new prime minister will be chosen by an electorate of around 150,000 Conservative Party members.

Mrs Leadsom's campaign chief Tim Loughton said the run-off represented a "quirky" choice for the Tories.

"They both went to state schools, they are both women - hey, that's pretty quirky for the Tory party."

Boris Johnson, whose own hopes of the leadership were torpedoed by Mr Gove's late entry into the race, is backing Mrs Leadsom. The former London mayor 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."

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