Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom abruptly withdrew from the contest to succeed David Cameron as Britain's prime minister on Monday, leaving her rival Theresa May as the only candidate.
The two women had been due to contest a ballot of around 150,000 Conservative party members, with the result to be declared by September 9. But the shock announcement opens the way for May to take over much sooner.
Leadsom withdrew after a weekend uproar over comments she made suggesting that her being a mother would be an advantage in the job. Leadsom has children; May does not.
It wasn't clear whether the flap affected her decision to drop out. She said simply that she did not believe she had sufficient support within the party to remain in the race.
Leadsom said "business needs certainty" in the wake of Britain's vote to leave the European Union, which has unsettled the markets and sent the value of the pound plunging.
She said Britain needed a government that would "move quickly to set out what an independent United Kingdom's framework for business looks like".
"We now need a new prime minister in place as soon as possible," Leadsom said.
UK's second female PM
Leadsom, who has no cabinet experience, was barely known to the British public until she emerged as a prominent voice in the successful campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.
May, 59, who has served as interior minister for the past six years, is now set to become Britain's second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher.
In a speech earlier on Monday she set out her vision for the economy, calling for "a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few".
"In the coming weeks I will set out [how] to take our economy through this period of uncertainty, to get the economy growing strongly across all parts, to deal with Britain's
long-standing productivity problem, to create more well-paid jobs, to negotiate the best terms for Britain's departure from the EU and to forge a new role for ourselves in the world," May said.
May favoured the "Remain" side during last month's referendum campaign. But she repeated her new mantra that "Brexit means Brexit", saying there could be no second
referendum and no attempt to rejoin the EU by the back door.
"As prime minister, I will make sure that we leave the European Union," she said.
"The British people were given their opportunity to vote on this ... They've given us a very clear message, and I think we respond to that message and we do what the British people have asked us to."
The 52-48 percent vote to quit the EU after 43 years of membership has shaken financial markets because the complex divorce process creates huge uncertainty for business, trade and investment.
It has thrown both of Britain's major political parties into upheaval.
Minutes before Leadsom's announcement, opposition Labour lawmaker Angela Eagle said she would challenge Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the party.
Corbyn was elected last year with overwhelming support from grassroots Labour activists. He has ignored a vote of no confidence from the party's lawmakers, saying he has a responsibility to carry out his mandate.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AP)
Date created : 2016-07-11