THERESA May will step into 10 Downing Street tomorrow evening as Prime Minister after another dramatic day at Westminster that saw the race for the Tory leadership unexpectedly cut short.
Ms May, who began the day launching her campaign to succeed David Cameron, finished it as the Prime Minister designate after her rival, Andrea Leadsom, dropped out of the contest.
The referendum result demonstrated a clear desire for change - strong leadership is needed urgently to begin the work of withdrawing from the European Union.Andrea Leadsom
Mr Cameron said he would tender his resignation to the Queen after leading a final session of Prime Minister’s Questions tomorrow.
In front of cheering Tory MPs gathered outside parliament, Ms May, the Home Secretary since 2010, said she was “going to give people more control over their lives” and pledged to honour the result of the EU referendum, saying: “Brexit means Brexit.”
“We need to unite our country,” she said. “We need a strong, new positive vision for the future of our country – a vision of a country that works not for the privileged few, but that works for every one of us. Because we are going to give people more control over their lives and that’s how together we will build a better Britain.”
Ms Leadsom, the Brexit campaigner and energy minister, abandoned the leadership race after conceding she did not have sufficient parliamentary support. In a ballot of Tory MPs last week, Ms May took top slot with 199 votes to Ms Leadsom’s 84.
Triggering a rapid political succession just as an anticipated nine-week leadership election got under way, Ms Leadsom offered the Prime Minister-in-waiting her “full support” in a statement just after noon.
“A nine-week leadership campaign at such a critical moment for our country is highly undesirable,” she said, flanked by shocked supporters including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith.
“Business needs certainty – a strong and unified government must move quickly to set out what an independent United Kingdom’s framework for business looks like.”
She added: “The Conservative party was elected only last year with a strong manifesto. We now need a new Prime Minister in place as soon as possible, committed to fulfilling that manifesto as well as implementing the clear instructions from the referendum.”
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Cameron said he was “delighted” Ms May would be succeeding him, and praised Ms Leadsom for making the “right decision”.
“Obviously with these changes we now don’t need to have a prolonged period of transition,” Mr Cameron said.
Ms May faces immediate calls for a snap general election, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats saying Ms May’s “coronation” required a democratic mandate.
Jon Trickett, the Labour election co-ordinator, said the day’s events had put his party “on a general election footing”.
“It is crucial, given the instability caused by the Brexit vote, that the country has a democratically elected prime minister,” Mr Trickett said.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said “there must be an election”, condemning what he called a “Tory stitch-up”.
Shortly before Ms Leadsom’s shock announcement, Ms May made a speech in Birmingham setting out a vision for the country aimed squarely at the centre ground.
She pledged to create a government that “works for everyone … rich and poor, north and south, urban and rural, young and old, male and female, black and white, sick and healthy, public sector, private sector, those with skills and those without”.
Criticising aspects of her own government’s economic policy, she accepted the “frustration” of ordinary working people who had failed to benefit from the recovery following the 2008 economic crisis, and said a “chasm” had opened up between wealthy London and the rest of the country.
She told multinational companies like Amazon, Starbucks and Google they had a “responsibility to pay your taxes”, and attacked “irresponsible” executive pay.
On the EU referendum result, she said there would be “no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it by the back door and no second referendum”, adding: “Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it.”
Nicola Sturgeon said she expected to meet Ms May soon to discuss efforts to keep Scotland in the EU despite last month’s Brexit vote.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I am determined to work with her constructively wherever possible on issues of common interest and concern.”
“Top of those is the issue of our continued place in the EU,”
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: “The country needs certainty and stability going forward and that’s exactly what a Theresa May premiership can provide.”
After managing to secure enough nominations from MPs to join front-runner Ms May on a leadership ballot that would have been voted on by 150,000 Conservative members despite her relative inexperience in politics, Ms Leadsom faced a difficult start to the campaign over the weekend.
Yesterday, she was forced to apologise over comments in a newspaper interview in which Ms Leadsom highlighted the fact Ms May does not have children, and suggested she had a bigger stake in the country’s future because she was a mother.
Ms Leadsom – who entered Parliament in 2010 and has never held a Cabinet post – also admitted that she had been “shattered” by the experience of intensive media scrutiny, which also involved questions about apparent inaccuracies on her CV and demands for her to publish her tax returns
Minutes after Ms Leadsom’s shock announcement, Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs which runs the party’s leadership elections, said that subject to the approval of party bosses, he could “formally confirm that Ms May is the new leader of the Conservative Party”.
Boris Johnson, who abandoned his own bid for the Tory leadership after leading he Brexit campaign to victory, called Ms Leadsom’s decision “brave and principled”.
Mr Johnson said: “I have no doubt Theresa will make an excellent party leader and Prime Minister and I’m encouraged that she’s made it clear that Brexit means Brexit – that we will leave the EU.”
Michael Gove, a distant third in the ballot of Tory MPs after mounting his own leadership bid at Mr Johnson’s expense, praised Ms Leadsom’s “dignity and courage” and gave the incoming Prime Minister his “full support”.