Theresa May confirmed on Tuesday evening the title of the front-runner candidate to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron.
In the first round of voting among Members of Parliament, the British Home Secretary secured 165 in a 330-strong parliamentary group. The former banker and prominent Leave campaigner Andrea Leadsom came second with 66 votes; Michael Gove got 48.
The Daily Telegraph came out with a front-page on Wednesday with May claiming “Only I can unite the country.” And she also told the BBC she was “grateful” to her colleagues and that she is the “only one capable of drawing support from the whole of the Conservative Party.” At least 17 Leave campaigners voted for the Home Secretary on Tuesday evening.
Beginning with an interview with the Evening Standard on Tuesday, Theresa May positioned herself as the de facto chief negotiator with the EU. In fact, she took a step further to question the framing of the negotiation process defined by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. Theresa May stated in a matter-of-fact way that negotiations will start before Britain evokes Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon and the City would maintain special rights to trade in the EU, thereby retaining its special role as a financial service hub.
A second round of voting for the leadership of the Conservative Party is expected on September 9. It appears only two women will remain in the race.
Seen as a reluctant Remain campaigner, May can already count on the support of her opponents Mr Fox and Mr Crabb. Significantly, Mr Fox is a Leave campaigner who secured the support of 16 MPs, while Work and Pensions Secretary Crabb secured 34. Other prominent Leave campaigners, such as David Davies have come out to support Theresa May.
Energy Minister Mrs Andrea Leadsom not only secured the support of 66 MPs, but can also count on the open endorsement of Boris Johnson, that is, the Leave campaign leader once regarded the indisputable Cameron successor. A poll of Conservative activists suggests that Leadsom also has a narrow 38%-vs-37% lead among party activists over Theresa May. Leadsom is campaigning as a hardliner promising to end the free movement of EU migrants while criticizing Theresa May for failing to guarantee those already living in Britain. Mrs Leadsom also has the support of two Remain MPs.
Unfortunately for Mrs Leadsom, she has been also endorsed by Ukip and the likely successor to Nigel Farage, the millionaire Arron Banks.
Mr Gove secured the support of 48 MPs but will Remain in the race, thereby splitting the purist “Leave” campaign camp. He said that he is “delighted” for the support he got, although it is clear he can expect little additional support to come his way.