Andrea Leadsom has pulled out of the Conservative Party leadership race, leaving Theresa May unopposed in the contest to replace David Cameron as prime minister.
In a statement in central-London, Leadsom said the country needed a new leader “as soon as possible”.
May will be formally confirmed as the new party leader as soon as the Conservative Party board has been consulted, Graham Brady, the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, has said, although he refused to give an exact timetable.
Both Labour and the Lib Dems have said May should go to the country in a general election.
Speaking to MSNBC in the United States, George Osborne said May should become prime minister “in the next few days”.
“She is now the overwhelming choice to be our country’s prime minister. I have worked with her for six years. She’s got the steel, the determination, to do the job,” he said.
“The economy doesn’t need uncertainty, it needs certainty. So I think now, in the next few days, we should move to put her in the position of prime minister so she can lead the country, provide unity, and provide that direction.”
Michael Gove has backed the home secretary to become prime minister. He said: “We should now move as quickly as possible to ensure Theresa May can take over as leader. She has my full support as our next prime minister.”
Boris Johnson has said he has “no doubt Theresa (May) will make an excellent party leader and prime minister” and called for the handover of power to begin “immediately”.
Leadsom said today: “The interests of our country are best served by the immediate appointment of a strong and well supported prime minister.
“A nine week leadership campaign at such a critical moment for our country is highly undesirable. A strong and unified government must move quickly to set out what an independent UK framework for business looks like.
“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.”
Leadsom, who campaigned for a Brexit vote, said May, who campaigned for ‘Remain’, was “ideally placed” to take the UK out of the EU.
Leadsom supporter Owen Paterson, a former environment secretary, said the energy minister had been subjected to a “brutal assault”.
Over the weekend Leadsom’s campaign was engulfed in a row over comments she made about Theresa May not having children.
Leadsom said she was “very sorry” for “any hurt” she had caused the home secretary.
Tim Loughton, Leadsom’s campaign manager, accused Tory MPs opposed to the energy minister’s bid of “putting smear above respect”.
And he accused the media of deploying “underhand tactics” against Leadsom.
Labour shadow cabinet minister Jon Trickett said he was putting the 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,” he said.
“It is time for the Labour Party to unite and ensure the millions of people in the country left behind by the Tories’ failed economic policies, have the opportunity to elect a Labour government.”
Leadsom’s announcement came at the same time as Angela Eagle launched her Labour leadership bid in an attempt to oust Jeremy Corbyn.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said it was “inconceivable” that May could be come prime minister without a fresh vote.
“There must be an election. The Conservatives must not be allowed to ignore the electorate, their mandate is shattered and lies in ruins,” he said.
Following Leadsom’s decision, the markets reacted with relief: the pound spiked against the dollar, as it did last week when another prominent Brexiteer, Johnson, pulled out.