Home Secretary Theresa May has won the first round of the contest to become the next Tory leader and PM and says she is the only candidate left who can unite the party.
Mrs May got 165 of 329 votes cast by Tory MPs. Andrea Leadsom came second with 66 and Michael Gove got 48. She will be the second female prime minister of Great Britain.
Former defence secretary Liam Fox was eliminated in fifth place with just 16 votes. Stephen Crabb came fourth with the support of 36 MPs and dropped out. Both have since backed Mrs May.
Further voting will narrow the field to two. The eventual outcome, decided by party members, is due on 9 September. Following the result, Mr Gove, the justice secretary and a leading Leave campaigner, insisted he would stay in the race, saying the winner should be someone who backed Brexit.
Mrs Leadsom, an energy minister, was also a key figure in the campaign to leave the EU, appearing alongside Boris Johnson in some of the TV debates.
Home Secretary May refused to rule out the deportation of European Union (EU) nationals living in Britain, amid fears that guaranteeing their rights could lead to a “huge influx” of migrants.
May, who has emerged as the frontrunner in the race to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron as the leader of the ruling Conservative party, said that although she wanted to “guarantee the position” of EU citizens currently living in Britain, their future could be up for negotiation, The Independent reported.
“She was saying it is unwise to promise right now that all EU nationals living in Britain should be able to stay indefinitely. The reason for that is if we did that the same rights would have to apply to any EU national who comes to Britain before we leave the EU,” an official said.
“If we made that promise you could just see a huge influx of EU nationals who would all want to come here while they have that chance.”
The official also made it clear that the issue was a “negotiating point”.
“What is important is there will be a negotiation here as to how we deal with that issue of people who are already here and who have established life here and Britons who have established a life in other countries within the EU,” May told local media.
Responding to her comments, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron demanded that the Britain-based EU nationals should be given complete assurances that they would have the right to stay in the country indefinitely.
The party, which has committed to standing in the next election on the platform of securing Britain’s place in the EU, added that the future status of these people is not clear beyond any renegotiation period, leading to uncertainty.
“It is utterly outrageous that Theresa May won’t give Europeans living, working and paying taxes in Britain certainty that they will have the right to stay here. The Liberal Democrats would,” Farron said.
“We call on the Home Secretary to offer a cast iron guarantee that the futures of all those Europeans residing here can be in Britain,” he added.
Candidates vying to replace Cameron were urged to guarantee that the 3 million EU nationals already living here were not deported if and when Britain quits the bloc.
Britain on June 24 voted to exit the EU after almost 40 years of being a member of the now 27-member regional bloc.