Leadsom vs May: Next UK Prime Minister will be a Christian woman

The next Prime Minister will be either Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom after Michael Gove was eliminated in the final round of voting by Conservative MPs.

In the second round of voting May picked up 199 votes and Leadsom 84, leaving the justice secretary Gove in last place with 46. Tory party rules mean Tory activists will be given the direct choice between the home secretary May and the junior energy minister Leadsom, considered an outsider at the start of the contest.

May, who wanted the UK to remain in the European Union, will face a stiff challenge from the Brexiteer Leadsom who has risen to prominence over the referendum campaign. Despite her relative inexperience, Leadsom could well prove popular with Tory activists, the majority of whom back Brexit. Although May's long stint at home secretary means she is considered a safe pair of hands, she may struggle against the outspoken Leadsom.

Boris Johnson, who chose not to run for Prime Minster after leading the campaign to leave the EU, has added his support to Leadsom's campaign. He said she had the "zap, drive and determination" needed.

Immediately after the vote May said she was delighted to have won so much support from MPs in both the Remain and Leave camps. "This vote shows the Conservative party can come together and under my leadership it will," she told supporters outside the House of Commons. 

"We need proven leadership to negotiate the best deal for leaving the EU," she said, in a jibe at Leadsom's inexperience. She added she wanted Britain to work for everyone, "not for the privileged few". 

Both women are committed Christians. Earlier on Thursday Leadsom said she was opposed to gay marriage laws because they hurt "many Christians". In an interview with ITV she said she would have preferred marriage to have remained "a Christian service" with civil partnerships available to both heterosexual and gay couples. 

Leadsom has given her testimony on the Christians in Parliament website and said the moment "became impossible...not to believe in God" was when her first son was born. She said: "I always try to ensure I am doing what I think God would want me to do. What that means is I try to keep the 'love your neighbour' [command] and not just allow the wave of politics and arguments to get to me. I try to stay calm and measured and be as God would want me to be." 

Theresa May, the daughter of a vicar, has been reluctant to discuss her faith saying "It's good we don't flaunt such things in British politics". But when she was invited onto BBC Radio 4's Desert Island discs, the home secretary chose Isaac Watt's When I survey the wondrous cross as one of her songs.

She told presenter Kirsty Young that she "never took issue with the church" because it was "never imposed by her parents". She said she was still a practising Anglican: "It is part of me, part of who I am and how I approach things." 

The pair will now enter a summer of hustings across the country in an effort to win the support of the membership.