Britain is poised to get its first woman prime minister in more than a quarter of a century since Margaret Thatcher as the race to succeed David Cameron after the Brexit vote on Thursday narrowed down to home secretary Theresa May and energy minister Andrea Leadsom.
May will now go head to head with Leadsom in an all-woman contest after justice secretary Michael Gove was eliminated from the Conservative party leadership race with the least votes in the second round of voting on Thursday.
"This vote proves the Conservative party can come together," May said after she received the backing of 199 Tory MPs compared to Leadsom's 84 and Gove's 46.
May and Leadsom will now begin their campaigns to convince the wider Conservative party membership around the country for a final round of voting with the winner set to be declared on September 9.
It is now certain that the winner will go on to become Britain's second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher.
Thursday's results were announced at Westminster by Conservative MP Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee.
There had originally been five contenders to succeed Cameron, who had announced his resignation after Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 23 referendum.
The contest now moves to its final stage with the Conservative Party's 150,000-strong membership deciding between May, a Remain campaigner with a long track record in government, and Leadsom, a strong Brexit campaigner with a background in business by postal ballot.
The race had thrown up its share of controversies with Gove's campaign chief, Nick Boles, allegedly texting MPs to vote tactically in favour of his candidate.
His message read: "What if Theresa stumbles? Are we really confident that the membership won’t vote for a fresh face who shares their attitudes about much of modern life, like they did with IDS [Ian Duncan Smith]?” It triggered a backlash, forcing Boles to apologise and claiming that Gove had no knowledge of his message.
It had led May to urge her supporters to not vote tactically as she once again called for a "proper contest".
The 59-year-old has gradually emerged as the candidate with the most backing among both remain and leave camps within the Tory party, despite having supported Cameron during the EU referendum campaign.
"Under Theresa's leadership, the motives of the Conservative Party will never be in any doubt," said Indian-origin minister Priti Patel, a Brexit supporter who threw her support behind May earlier on Thursday.