The new U.K. prime minister will either be Conservative Party parliamentarians Theresa May (shown above) or Andrea Leadsom.
[see update below]
Either May, the establishment favorite, or relative newcomer Leadsom will become the second female government leader in British history. Margaret Thatcher was leader of the Conservative (or Tory) Party from 1975 to 1990 and prime minister from 1979 to 1990.
On June 24, incumbent Prime Minister David Cameron resigned pending the appointment of his successor on the morning after the Brexit vote, which went 52 percent to 48 percent to exit or leave the European Union. Cameron aggressively supported the "remain" side.
With his mission accomplished, Nigel Farage, the leader of the populist UK Independence Party (UKIP or Ukip), also unexpectedly stepped down as well, prompting a UKIP leadership contest after taking a victory lap in the European Parliament. Farage is perhaps single-handedly responsible for compelling David Cameron to reluctantly authorize the EU in-or-out referendum.
The opposition Labor Party is also in turmoil post-Brexit, with leader Jeremy Corbyn holding on to his job so far despite much restiveness among his colleagues. Labor Party politician Angela Eagle, a member of parliament since 1992, has announced that she will challenge Corbyn for the party leadership.
Brexit prevailed in the national referendum with roughly the same margin of victory as Barack Obama won the U.S. presidency.
In a second vote by Tory lawmakers in the House of Commons, where they hold the majority, career politician May received 199 votes vs. Leadsom's 84, with Michael Gove eliminated by his third-place finish. Former London Mayor Boris Johnson was the prohibitive front-runner for the top job until his Brexit wingman Gove unexpectedly jumped into the race, prompting Johnson to bail.
Although this process may seem unusual to American readers, the May-Leadsom matchup now goes to about 150,000 rank-and-file Tories who will vote for their leader and, by extension the country's chief executive, by mail, with a final decision by September 9.
In the U.S., in the event that the president steps down, the vice president automatically takes over.The next national election in Britain is scheduled for May 2020, so either woman will serve until then, unless the political environment unravels, resulting in the possibility of early balloting.
May, the current front-runner according to most political pundits, has been a member of the U.K. parliament since 1997 and Home Secretary (roughly equivalent to our Homeland Security Secretary) since 2010. Under a parliamentary system, elected legislative officials from the majority party can and do simultaneously serve as members of the executive branch. First elected to House of Commons in 2010, Leadsom had a long career in finance before entering politics. While in government, she has held posts overseeing energy and the economy.
One of the big differences between May and Leadsom is that the former supported "remain" while Leadsom was a vocal champion for "leave."
May is also receiving the support of most of the London-centric media, which also tended to back remain. Commenting on the media hostility toward Leadsom's candidacy, in part because her preference for traditional marriage, the U.K. Conservative Home website observed that "the more media mocking that there is of Leadsom, the more likely it is that many Party members are to feel that she is being bullied -- and that her values, which are theirs, are being ridiculed. If parts of the media want to promote the cause of the candidate they don't want rather than the one that they do, they should carry on doing exactly what they have been doing for the past few days."Theresa May has pledged to respect the will of the voters and unwind from the EU but has so far been unwilling to give a date by which she will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which will officially begin the two-year Brexit negotiating process. Leadsom has vowed to start the clock immediately. May critics also claim that she has done little to address immigration issues, illegal or otherwise, as Home Secretary.
While Theresa May appears to be on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, the PM's official London residence, the Guardian claims that Andrea Leadsom could still win the top job.
"Leadsom's trump card is that she fought to take the UK out of the EU, in contrast to May who played a low-key role in the remain campaign. Leadsom was not as prominent as the leading Brexit duo -- Boris Johnson and Michael Gove -- but she raised her profile with measured and convincing performances in two television debates. As a Brexiter, she will be able to argue that her heart is in taking Britain out of the EU, with no fudges or retreat from what the public has voted for."Ms. May's supporters say she has robust government experience and would represent stability at a time of great upheaval...Ms. Leadsom gained attention with punchy debate lines while campaigning for the U.K.'s exit from the EU, but some say she lacks sufficient government experience," the Wall Street Journal explained in comparing the two prime minister hopefuls.
"On top of that, she will probably claim to be in tune with the national mood, given that a majority of people opted for Brexit, allowing her to argue she has a high chance of winning the general election. Her supporters are already saying she will appeal to Labor-voting and Ukip-voting Brexiters as she was 'willing to put her head on the block' to fight for leaving the EU."
A nutshell comparison/contrast of May and Leadsom's political views was published today in the U.K. Independent.Who do you think will become the U.K.'s next prime minister: Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom?
Update: Andrea Leadsom sparked a controversy, at least as the news and social media see it, by telling the Times of London that she has a "real stake" in the future of the U.K. because she is a mother, while May has no kids. Leadsom pushed back immediately, insisting that everyone has an equal stake in British society.[Photo by Matt Dunham/AP Images]