Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom in race to become next Prime Minister
Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom will battle it out to be the next Prime Minister, after Michael Gove was tonight eliminated from the Conservative leadership race.
Ms May comfortably outperformed her rivals in the second ballot of Tory MPs by winning the support of 199 colleagues, compared to Ms Leadsom on 84 and Mr Gove on 46.
Conservative members will now choose between Ms May and Ms Leadsom, with the result being announced on 9 September.
It means that for only the second time, the next Prime Minister will be a woman. The last was Margaret Thatcher, who left office in 1991.
As she welcomed the result outside the Houses of Parliament, the Home Secretary emphasised her "proven leadership".
Ms May said: “I am delighted to have won so much support from my colleagues. I’ve won votes from Conservative MPs from across the party, from left and right, Leavers and Remainers, MPs from the length and breadth of the country.
“This vote shows that the Conservative party can come together and that under my leadership it will.
“Now, I’ve always said there should be a proper contest. Now is the time for me and my team to take my case out to party members in the country.
“That case is built on three things, because we need proven leadership to negotiate the best deal for leaving the European Union, to unite our party and our country, and to make Britain a country that works not for the privileged few, but for everyone.
“Those are the things that my colleagues have voted in such numbers for today and I am confident that those are the things that will win support of members across the country – and indeed the whole country.”
David Cameron was the only Tory MP not to take part in the ballot.
The result is a bitter blow for Justice Secretary Mr Gove, who decided to run at the 11th hour after withdrawing his support for his fellow Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson.
One MP told PoliticsHome: "If Michael had announced he was running two weeks ago, and not knifed Boris, he'd have been our next Prime Minister."
Tim Loughton, Ms Leadsom's campaign manager, said: "We can now give the party a real choice - a Remain woman and a Leave woman who both went to state school. That's pretty quirky for the Tory party.
"We're going to battle really hard in the country until 9 September."
Penny Mordaunt, who is also backing Ms Leadsom, said: "Andrea is fantastic, people are really getting to know her and she is a very, very strong candidate. The momentum is with her."
But Damian Green said Theresa May was the best choice to be the country's next Prime Minister.
He said: "Andrea has great qualities, but there is no doubt that Theresa is the most experienced of the two candidates by a long way and has demonstrated not just in her job, but in this election process, that she is better placed than anyone else to unite the party."
Mark Pritchard, who is also backing Mrs May, said: "It's a very good result for Theresa and we're looking forward to the contest in the country.
"The more people get to know here the more impressed they are by her vision and her values. She has a huge amount of experience, is solid, reliable, dependable and proven.
"At a time of great change for our country, we need somebody who has a proven track record and has been tested at the highest level of government, and has battled for Britain in Brussels."