One of the two women pictured above, the home secretary, Theresa May, and Andrea Leadsom, the junior energy minister who campaigned for Brexit, will eventually emerge as Britain’s next prime minister.
Conservative MPs chose Leadsom, who was considered a rank outsider when the contest began, over the justice secretary, Michael Gove, who entered the contest last Friday, effectively stopping his fellow Vote Leave campaigner Boris Johnson from entering the race.
In the second round of voting by Tory MPs, May scooped up 199 votes, Leadsom scored 84 and Gove was knocked out, with just 46. The choice means that the next British prime minister is guaranteed to be a woman, the second after Margaret Thatcher.
May said Britain needed “strong, proven” leadership to handle Brexit negotiations and unite the country. “I’m delighted to have won so much support from my colleagues,” she said. “This vote shows the Tory party can come together and unite, and under my leadership it will.
“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.”
The former defence secretary Liam Fox was knocked out when he came last in the first round of voting on Tuesday, and the work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, chose to step down after finishing fourth.
Johnson swung his weight behind Leadsom despite her relative inexperience, insisting that she had the “zap, drive and determination” required for the top job.
Centrist Tory MPs will now fear that the party’s activists, who have the final say on who will be the Conservative’s next leader and country’s next prime minister, will prefer the outspoken Leadsom to May, whose long stint at the Home Office means she is considered a safe pair of hands.