23 October 2016
Theresa May is leading in the Conservative Party's vote for the next occupant of 10 Downing Street. Photo: Reuters
Theresa May is leading in the Conservative Party's vote for the next occupant of 10 Downing Street. Photo: Reuters

May leads three-horse race for British PM after Brexit

British Home Secretary Theresa May opened up a strong lead Tuesday in what is now a three-horse race to become Britain’s next prime minister, Reuters reported.

But the first stage of voting was overshadowed by post-Brexit carnage for property investors and the pound.

Britons voted in a June 23 referendum to break away from the European Union.

In symptoms of market concern about the economic impact of leaving the EU, sterling hit new 31-year lows, and three funds investing in British property said they were suspending trading because too many people were rushing to withdraw their money at once.

May won 165 votes in a first ballot of Conservative members of Parliament, and Andrea Leadsom, a junior energy minister, won 66, increasing the likelihood that Britain will get its second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove was third on 48.

Former defense minister Liam Fox won the fewest votes, 16, and was eliminated from the battle to replace David Cameron, who has said he will step down.

Soon afterward, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Stephen Crabb, who placed fourth with 34 votes, said he was pulling out and throwing his “wholehearted support” behind May.

Fox said he would also back her.

May, 59, said: “There is a big job before us: to unite our party and the country, to negotiate the best possible deal as we leave the EU, and to make Britain work for everyone.

“I am the only candidate capable of delivering these three things as prime minister, and tonight it is clear that I am also the only one capable of drawing support from the whole of the Conservative Party.”

The drawn-out selection process will ultimately be decided by about 150,000 Conservative Party members in September, once MPs have whittled the field down to two candidates.

Given strong eurosceptic sentiment among grassroots Conservatives, Leadsom, 53, and Gove, 48, remain in contention. Both were leading voices in the victorious Leave campaign, while May favored remaining inside the 28-nation EU.

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