Britain’s governing Conservative party MPs have voted on who should be their next leader – and, with it, the prime minister who will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and negotiate the UK’s exit from the EU over the next two years.
Either Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom will be the next British prime minister and the person to negotiate Brexit, it emerged Thursday night (7 July), after the pair were voted through to the final round in the contest to replace David Cameron.
The two candidates – both women – are profiled below:
Andrea Leadsom – right-wing Christian, ‘Thatcher heir’ who wants to “banish the pessimists”.
Leadsom is a junior minister, an ex-City banker, and a vocal Leave campaigner. At a press conference on Thursday (7 July), she pledged to “banish the pessimists” over the early aftershocks of the Brexit vote, insisting the pound had remained stable – despite its 30 year low against the dollar.
While Leadsom is barely known among ordinary voters, her pro-Brexit zeal and City of London credentials have won respect among some Conservative MPs and party members who will choose the next prime minister.
On being appointed energy minister, she famously asked her officials on her first day “Is climate change real?”, and has campaigned against windfarms and argued for letting the market decide on future energy options.
She has also faced questions over her CV, and her offshore tax avoidance to – legally – cut her family’s inheritance tax.
As a devout Christian, she did not vote in favour of gay marriage, and has pledged to hold a vote on re-legalising fox hunting.
Leadsom, who at 53 has never served in the cabinet and only became an MP six years ago, is keen to encourage the Thatcher comparison.
“As a person, she was always kind and courteous and as a leader she was steely and determined,” she told the Sunday Telegraph. “I think that’s an ideal combination – and I do like to think that’s where I am.”
A married mother-of-three, Leadsom worked in banking before becoming an MP in 2010.
She has long campaigned for reform of the EU, setting up a pressure group in 2011 whose mission statement was to explore options for giving British citizens “more control over their own lives”.
As leader, she says she would start the formal process for leaving the European Union upon taking office in September and that Britain could be out as early as next year.
She wants to opt out of freedom of movement but says that the rights of EU nationals currently living in Britain should be protected.
Leadsom has not proved universally popular during her government career – some Treasury officials have reportedly said she was a “disaster” during her time as City minister.
Theresa May – the experienced ‘safe pair of hands’… but who backed Remain
As Home Secretary (interior minister in other countries) for six years, May has a tough reputation on immigration, despite campaigning – quietly – for a Remain vote in the EU referendum.
The 59-year-old trod a fine line between remaining loyal to David Cameron and the
“Remain” campaign, while appeasing Conservative party members who wanted to
quit the EU and clamp down on immigration.
May took on the police union during her time as home secretary, but also famously authorised vans to drive around cities with a ‘Shop an illegal immigrant’ hotline number.
An MP for nearly twenty years, and a former Conservative party chairman who once warned her party it was at risk of appearing “the nasty party”, she is the firm favourite to become only the second female British prime minister, after Margaret Thatcher.
After studying geography at Oxford University and working briefly in the Bank of England, May’s political career began when she was elected a councillor in London in 1986.
She became an MP in 1997 and the Conservative party’s first chairwoman in 2002, breaking a long male tradition. While in opposition, May held various shadow cabinet positions.
Cameron, the fourth party leader she has served under, promoted May to home secretary following his 2010 election victory, a role she kept after his re-election in 2015.
“Following last week’s referendum, our country needs strong leadership to steer us through this period of economic and political uncertainty,” May said in launching her bid last week.
“Brexit means Brexit,” she said, adding that she does not plan to invoke Article 50 before the end of the year.
Many of the party’s MPs and ministers think only May can unite warring party factions after Britain voted by 52% in favour of leaving the EU.
In some unguarded comments broadcast by Sky News, senior Conservative MP Ken Clarke was caught speaking to a former cabinet colleague about May.
“Theresa’s a bloody difficult woman but you and I worked with Margaret Thatcher,” Clarke said.
“I get on all right with her and she is good. She’s too narrow on her department…. She doesn’t know much about foreign affairs,” he added.
In a still highly-male party, May is famous for her shoes, ever since wearing leopard-print heels during her ‘nasty party’ speech.
She has been married to banker Philip May since 1980, and the couple have no children. May lists her hobbies as walking and cooking.