Britain's next Prime Minister is set to be a woman, after Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom took the top two slots in a crucial vote of Conservative MPs while Michael Gove was eliminated.
The Home Secretary won the support of 199 MPs while Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister, came second in the contest with 84 votes. Mr Gove, the Justice Secretary, was pushed back into third place with 46 votes, meaning he is now eliminated from the leadership contest.
The leader of the party – and Prime Minister – will be chosen from in a ballot of around 150,000 Conservative Party members in just nine weeks’ time.
Responding to the results, which were announced by the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs in Westminister, Ms May said: “I am delighted to have won so much support from my colleagues. 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 support of the country as a whole.”
Speaking to reporters, Ms Leadsom said: "My commiserations to Michael [Gove] but I'm absolutely delighted with the results.
"The great news is we have an all-female shortlist with no positive discrimination or anything, isn't that fantastic?"
The favourites in the Tory leadership race
The favourites in the Tory leadership race
1/5 Theresa May
The longest-serving Home Secretary in 100 years took a back seat in the referendum campaign. While backing Remain, she did not hit the campaign trail and delivered only a handful of speeches and interviews, and was critical of many aspects of the EU, particularly the European Convention on Human Rights. Hedging her bets allows her to now emerge as a ‘unity’ candidate, and she is said to have been building up her back-room staff in preparation for a leadership bid. She has the significant advantage of having served in one of the great offices of state, in a steady and competent manner that has won her many admirers within party and the civil service. At a time of great instability, it may be that she is viewed as steady hand on the tiller. Mrs May does however, lack the ‘star quality’ of a Boris Johnson and party members may doubt her ability to connect with ordinary voters
2/5 Michael Gove
The Justice Secretary may be able to set himself up as ‘the thinking Tory’s Brexit candidate’. Made an enormous political and personal decision to back Leave, taking on his old friend David Cameron. He performed well during the TV debates, and will be an admired figure among Eurosceptic Conservatives. Along with Johnson, he will be hindered by the fact that he led a very divisive campaign, characterised by ‘blue-on-blue’ action. MPs may also judge that he lacks Boris Johnson’s wider appeal with the electorate. Possibly more likely that he will settle for being his new bosom buddy Boris’s Chancellor
3/5 Stephen Crabb
Highly-rated Work and Pensions Secretary, raised on a council estate, so could reach out to non-traditional working class Tory voters
4/5 Andrea Leadsom
Minister of State for Energy at the Department of Energy and Climate Change is one of the most prominent figures in the Leave campaign, seen to have performed well in TV debates
5/5 Liam Fox
British Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for Defence, as sources said he will stand for the leadership of the Conservative Party
During the first round of voting Liam Fox, a former Defence Secretary, was eliminated from the contest and Stephen Crabb, the Work and Pensions Secretary, withdrew his bid to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister after he failed to gather enough support for his campaign. Both of the candidates pledged their support.
Ms May won the first round with an overwhelming result of 165 votes – followed by Ms Leadsom on 66, Michael Gove on 48 and Stephen Crabb on 34.
Boris Johnson, the former London mayor, endorsed Ms Leadsom on Tuesday and insisted that she had the “zap, drive and determination” required to lead the country through the Brexit negotiations.
Mr Johnson, who was widely believed to succeed Mr Cameron, was effectively forced to pull out of the race before announcing his candidacy after Mr Gove – his close ally and fellow Leave campaigner – decided to run himself.
Ms Leadsom has laid claim to inheriting Margaret Thatcher's mantle, telling the Telegraph in a recent interview that Britain's first female Prime MInister was "always kind and courteous and as a leader she was steely and determined. I think that’s an ideal combination – and I do like to think that’s where I am.”
However Priti Patel, the Employment minister who was one of the leading Leave campaigners in the EU referendum, said Ms May had more in common with the woman who led Britain for 11 years.
“She shares the steely determination I always admired in Margaret Thatcher, and she has the experience and trust needed to succeed for this great nation of ours,” Ms Patel said.