- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2016

A quarter-century after the toppling of Margaret Thatcher, Britain is about to get its second female prime minister. Conservative Party voters will choose between Home Minister Theresa May and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom — and the last woman standing will replace departing Prime Minister David Cameron at No. 10 Downing St. later this year.

Tories in Parliament cast their final ballots Thursday, and Ms. May maintained her position as front-runner in the race to be the next Conservative Party leader and prime minister.

Of the 329 members of Parliament, 199 backed Ms. May and 84 voted for Ms. Leadsom. Justice Secretary Michael Gove dropped out of the race after winning just 46 votes.

Conservative Party members will now vote on their next leader, who is due to be announced by Sept. 9.

Having lost his gamble on a national referendum over Britain’s continued membership in the European Union, Mr. Cameron announced last month that he would resign. The next prime minister thus will be charged with negotiating terms of the country’s divorce from the European Union after last month’s stunning “Brexit” vote to leave the 28-nation alliance.

Ms. May, who turns 60 this year, became the United Kingdom’s most senior female politician after being appointed as home secretary in 2010. She was first elected to Parliament in 1997. On Thursday, Ms. May said she was delighted to find sustained support from her colleagues, even though she had joined Mr. Cameron in the losing “Remain” camp in the EU debate.

Noting that members from both the Leave and Remain factions backed her Thursday, Ms. May said, “This vote shows the Conservative Party can come together and, under my leadership, it will.”

The home secretary’s political career differs largely from her opponent’s.

Ms. Leadsom has never held a senior Cabinet position. Before becoming a member of Parliament in 2010, she spent 25 years as a banker in London. Still, some say the energy minister could have the edge when voting shifts from the halls of Parliament to the wider constituency of Conservative voters.

Ms. Leadsom, 53, made a name for herself as a member of the Leave campaign’s “dream team” when she appeared on TV alongside former London Mayor Boris Johnson and Labor parliamentary member Gisela Stuart, impressing viewers with her calm and reasoned economic arguments.

Ms. May, on the other hand, stayed relatively quiet in the Brexit debates. Even though the candidates find common ground as Euroskeptics, Ms. Leadsom is likely to exploit Ms. May’s Remain position to the party’s 125,000 members. She has declared that only a pro-Brexit candidate will be able to carry out a successful exit from the European Union.

“The prime minister resigned because he didn’t back leaving, he doesn’t believe in it, so it would be odd to just appoint somebody who also didn’t believe in it. I just don’t think that would be right,” Ms. Leadsom told reporters in London.

Ms. May argues that people want more than a Brexit prime minister and has vowed to unify the deeply divided Conservatives while honoring the referendum result.

“Brexit means Brexit. The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high and the public gave their verdict,” Ms. May said. “There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum.”

The candidates favor dramatically different schedules. Ms. May said she would insist on preliminary talks with EU officials before formally triggering the exit process, and Ms. Leadsom said she would push for a separation as soon as possible.

Though Ms. Leadsom has found crucial support in Mr. Johnson, who declined to make a widely expected run himself for the top job, her close ties to big finance could hurt her chances. She has also been knocked by former colleagues for exaggerating her responsibilities at Barclays Investment Bank.

Ms. May’s ability to draw from both the Leave and Remain wings of the Conservative Party means “she goes into the contest as the clear favorite,” Andrew Sparrow, a political correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, wrote after the vote, but Ms. Leadsom has a real chance with Tory voters as a sharper break with the unpopular Mr. Cameron.

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