UK Interior minister Theresa May is set to become prime minister on Wednesday with the task of steering its withdrawal from the European Union after her only rival abruptly pulled out.
May, 59, will succeed David Cameron, who announced he was stepping down after Britons unexpectedly voted last month to quit the EU. Britain’s planned withdrawal has weakened the 28-nation bloc, created huge uncertainty over trade and investment, and shaken financial markets.
May and energy minister Andrea Leadsom had been due to contest a ballot of around 150,000 Conservative party members, with the result to be declared by Sept. 9. But Leadsom unexpectedly withdrew on Monday, removing the need for a nine-week leadership contest.
Cameron told reporters in front of his 10 Downing Street residence that he expected to chair his last cabinet meeting on Tuesday and take questions in parliament on Wednesday before tendering his resignation to Queen Elizabeth.
“So we will have a new prime minister in that building behind me by Wednesday evening,” he said.
May will become Britain’s second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher.
Her victory means that the complex process of extricating Britain from the EU will be led by someone who favored a vote to Remain in last month’s membership referendum. She has said Britain needs time to work out its negotiating strategy and should not initiate formal divorce proceedings before the end of the year, but has also emphasized that ‘Brexit means Brexit’.
In a speech early on Monday in the central city of Birmingham, May said there could be no second referendum and no attempt to rejoin the EU by the back door.
“As prime minister, I will make sure that we leave the European Union,” she said.
Leadsom, 53, never served in cabinet and was barely known to the British public until she emerged as a prominent voice in the successful Leave campaign.
She had been strongly criticized over a newspaper interview in which she appeared to suggest that being a mother meant she had more of a stake in the country’s future than May, who has no children.
Some Conservatives said they were disgusted by the remarks, for which Leadsom later apologized, while others said they showed naivety and a lack of judgment.