Poll shows Theresa May as clear favourite to become next UK prime minister

The Sun on Sunday says 60% of Conservative voters are backing the sitting Home Secretary to succeed David Cameron

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Theresa May. Image: Matt Dunham / AP/Press Association Images

Theresa May has a commanding lead in the race to become the next UK prime minister, with six out of 10 Conservatives backing her, latest polling suggests.

Recriminations over Michael Gove's decision to pull his support for Boris Johnson and stage his own bid for the top job appear to have dented his prospects of taking on the Home Secretary in the final vote.

The ICM poll for The Sun on Sunday found Mrs May was backed by 60% of Tory voters, with Justice Secretary Mr Gove second on 10 points and Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom on six.

Although the poll puts the Mr Gove ahead of Mrs Leadsom, bookies have slashed the odds on the junior minister making it through the knock-out stages in Parliament to go up against Mrs May in the head-to-head.

Some 55% of those polled by ICM were unable to give any view on Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, who have lower profiles than the long-standing Cabinet ministers, and 42% had the same problem with former frontbencher Liam Fox.

Latest estimates show that Mrs May has the support of 104 MPs. Mr Gove is believed to be the nearest challenger with 27 and Ms Leadsom has 21.

With levels of support stronger than the combined total of her four rivals, Mrs May appears to be on course to take the keys to Downing Street.

The first round of voting is being held on Tuesday.

However, Mrs May's rivals have sought to block any "coronation" by pointing out she had opposed Brexit and arguing the next prime minister should be a Leave campaigner.

Mr Gove told The Sunday Times: "It is a matter of democratic accountability. People who voted in a particular way will expect someone who believed in that to argue their case for them.

"The second thing is that you have the moral authority and mandate knowing that you represent the views of 17 million people."

Writing in the newspaper, Mrs Leadsom said: "Some are suggesting that the simplest way for the Conservative Party to move forward is through some sort of 'coronation', and that there should be no role for those who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.

"I can't believe anybody would seriously consider this. The British people made their views clear."

However, she has found herself accused of hypocrisy after details emerged of a speech made three years ago, saying leaving the EU would be a disaster.

According to the Mail on Sunday, she told the Hansard Society's Annual Parliamentary Affairs Lecture in 2013: "I'm going to nail my colours to the mast here: I don't think the UK should leave the EU.

"I think it would be a disaster for our economy and it would lead to a decade of economic and political uncertainty at a time when the tectonic plates of global success are moving.

"Economic success is the vital underpinning of every happy nation. The wellbeing we all crave goes hand in hand with economic success."