Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom has announced she is pulling out of the race to replace David Cameron as prime minister.
The energy minister has paved the way for Home Secretary Theresa May, as the only remaining candidate, to be named Tory leader and PM as early as today.
The two women had been due to contest a ballot of around 150,000 Conservative party members, with the result to be declared by Sept. 9, but the shock announcement opens the way for May to take over much sooner.Read also: Great Britain seeking for new prime-minister
Leadsom had been criticized earlier 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.
"A nine-week leadership campaign at such a critical moment for our country is highly undesirable,” Leadsom said in her statement.
"I have, however, concluded that the interests of our country are best served by the immediate appointment of a strong and well-supported prime minister. I am therefore withdrawing from the leadership election and I wish Theresa May the very greatest success. I assure her of my full support. Thank you very much," she added.
She acknowledged that May had secured overwhelming backing in a vote of Conservative members of parliament last week. "Strong leadership is needed urgently to begin the work of withdrawing from the European Union," Leadsom said.
May, who has served as interior minister for the past six years, is now set to become Britain's second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher. In a speech earlier on Monday she set out her vision for the economy, calling for "a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few".