INTERIOR Minister, Theresa May, is set to become Britain’s first woman prime minister since Margaret Thatcher after her only rival abruptly quit the race on Monday, removing the need for a drawn-out leadership contest.
May, 59, was left as the only candidate to succeed David Cameron, who announced he was stepping down after Britons voted last month to leave the European Union. Britain’s planned withdrawal has weakened the 28-nation bloc and created huge uncertainty over trade and investment.
May and energy minister Andrea Leadsom had been due to contest a ballot of around 150,000 Conservative party members, with the result to be declared by Sept. 9. But Leadsom unexpectedly withdrew on Monday, opening the way for May to take over much sooner.
Her victory means that the complex process of extricating Britain from the EU will be led by someone who favored a vote to Remain in last month’s membership referendum.
Leadsom, 53, has never served in cabinet and was barely known to the British public until she emerged as a prominent voice in the successful Leave campaign.
She had been strongly criticized over a newspaper interview in which she appeared to suggest that being a mother meant she had more of a stake in the country’s future than May, who has no children. Some Conservatives said they were disgusted by the remarks, for which Leadsom later apologized, while others said they showed naivety and a lack of judgment.
Leadsom told reporters she was pulling out of the race because a nine-week leadership campaign was highly undesirable at such a critical time. She acknowledged that May had secured much stronger backing in a vote of Conservative members of parliament last week.
“Strong leadership is needed urgently to begin the work of withdrawing from the European Union,” Leadsom said.
“I have … concluded that the interests of our country are best served by the immediate appointment of a strong and well supported prime minister. I am therefore withdrawing from the leadership election and I wish Theresa May the very greatest success. I assure her of my full support.”
May, who has served as interior minister for the past six years, is now set to become Britain’s second female prime minister after Thatcher, although it was not clear exactly how soon that would happen.