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Leadsom and May square off in race for party leadership

Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom will now square off for Conservative party leadership and the role of prime minister.

Britain is on its way to getting its second female prime minister, after Tory members of parliament narrowed the race for leadership of the country's ruling Conservative party.

The race pits Home Secretary Theresa May, a rising star of the party's right, against her eurosceptic rival Andrea Leadsom. The winner will replace Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his resignation after Britain voted last month to leave the European Union.

May won 199 votes and Leadsom 84 in a second vote by Conservative politicians. Justice Secretary Michael Gove received only 46 votes and was eliminated from the race.

"This vote shows that the Conservative Party can come together, and under my leadership it will," May told supporters shortly after the results were announced.

Now that Conservative MPs have had their say, the final decision will be left up to the wider membership - some 150,000 party members across the country.

Grassroots Conservatives will have the final say on whether May or Leadsom becomes Britain's first woman prime minister since Margaret Thatcher was forced from office in 1990.

The result of the contest is expected by September 9, meaning businesses and investors must endure two more months of uncertainty over who will lead the huge task of disentangling Britain's economy from the European Union while trying to safeguard trade and investment.

Leadsom emerged as a star of the victorious "Leave" campaign in Britain's EU referendum.

May, who is well ahead in the polls, supported the "Remain" camp, but says she has the mettle to unite a party that - like the country - is divided over the referendum result.

The new leader will be responsible for leading Britain's exit negotiations with the 28-nation EU as well as helping to steady the country's government and economy, which has been deeply shaken by the reaction of markets to the EU vote.

Prime Minister David Cameron said last month that he was stepping down after voters, many of them swayed by concerns over high immigration and a desire to reclaim "independence" from Brussels, rejected his entreaties to keep Britain in the EU and his warnings that leaving could spell economic disaster.

Investor concerns about the effect of the referendum have mounted in recent days, with asset managers suspending trading in commercial property funds worth billions of pounds after too many people rushed to withdraw their money at once.

The British pound levelled off on Thursday after two days of nervous trading drove it below $1.30 for the first time in more than three decades.

Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser to Europe's largest insurer Allianz, told Reuters news agency on Thursday that the pound could sink towards parity with the dollar unless politicians got a grip.

"After the Brexit referendum, the UK has to urgently get its political act together," El-Erian told Reuters in a telephone interview. "'Plan B' depends on the politicians in London and across the Channel, but so far they have not stepped up to their economic governance responsibilities."


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