Tory leadership battle: Andrea Leadsom withdraws from race

Theresa May is now set to become the next prime minister

Tory leadership battle: Andrea Leadsom withdraws from race

Undated file photos of Theresa May (left) and Andrea Leadsom | PA Images

Theresa May is set to become the next British prime minister after her only rival Andrea Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race.

Mrs Leadsom said she was pulling out of the contest shortly after apologising to the Home Secretary over an interview in which she appeared to suggest the fact that she was a mother gave her the edge over the childless Mrs May.

Speaking outside her campaign headquarters in central London, energy minister Andrea Leadsom said a nine-week leadership campaign to succeed David Cameron at such a critical time for the UK would be "highly undesirable".

Mrs Leadsom said Mrs May was ideally placed to implement a British exit from the European Union and offered the Home Secretary her full support.

Michael Gove - who came third in the leadership ballot among MPs - has also backed Mrs May to become PM, saying:

"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 will make an excellent party leader and Prime Minister" and called for the handover of power to begin "immediately".

Chris Grayling, Mrs May's campaign manager, has said she was "enormously honoured" to be given the task of the leading the party, and would make a statement later today when she returns to London.

Mrs Leadsom's surprise statement came a little more than an hour after Mrs May launched her national campaign in Birmingham, seeking to present herself as the candidate of unity and experience, with the support of an "overwhelming" majority of Conservative MPs.

She finished top in the MPs' ballot last week with 199 votes to Mrs Leadsom's 84.