The Home Secretary won the support of 199 MPs while Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister, came second in the contest with 84 votes. He said he was pleased the next prime minister will be a woman and said May and Leadsom were “formidable politicians” and either one of them would “lead the country well”.
“Under Theresa’s leadership, the motives of the Conservative Party will never be in any doubt”, said Indian-origin minister Priti Patel, a Brexit supporter who threw her support behind May earlier today.
The battle to choose David Cameron’s successor will run until September 9 when the final result is announced.
Her prominent role in the Brexit campaign is seen as one of her main advantages in the ongoing contest for the Conservative leadership as it may play well with grassroots party members who have strong eurosceptic leanings.
May hailed the result, saying it showed the Conservative Party could unite under her leadership after the divisive European Union referendum vote.
Anti-EU campaigner and ex-London mayor Boris Johnson, who is backing Mrs Leadsom, 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’. She is in charge of internal affairs of England and Wales and immigration, national security and citizenship for the U.K. May is the longest-serving official in this post in more than 50 years.
The new prime minister will be chosen by an electorate of around 150,000 Conservative Party members. She was elected as a member of parliament in 1997.
Leadsom supported the “leave” campaign.
May supported Cameron’s Remain campaign but kept a low profile in the final weeks before the June 23 referendum. Justice Secretary Michael Gove got 46 votes and was eliminated from the race.
None of the candidates have provided social media with as much comedy material as Gove – from the way he claps to the way he drinks a glass of water.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Ms Leadsom was asked if, as leader, he would include Mr Farage in exit negotiations.
In the message, the Skills Minister said: “Michael doesn’t mind spending two months taking a good thrashing from Theresa if that is what it takes, but in the party’s interest and national interest surely we must work together to stop AL?”
In a speech to supporters Thursday, Leadsom promised that Britain could retain free trade with the European Union while simultaneously controlling immigration – an unrealistic prospect, according to critics.
She said: “I would have preferred for civil partnerships to be available to heterosexual and gay couples, and for marriage to have remained as a Christian service for men and women who wanted to commit in the eyes of God”.
Leadsom, 53 years old, has been in Parliament since 2010 and is considered less experienced than May.