LONDON - Andrea Leadsom withdrew Monday from the race to replace British Prime Minister David Cameron, leaving Home Secretary Theresa May as the sole remaining candidate to lead the Conservative Party.
Graham Brady, the head of the committee running the contest, said after Leadsom's announcement that the party board would meet to discuss confirming May as the winner. He did not suggest reopening the race and did not say when the party might confirm that she has won.
Assuming she is confirmed, May could become prime minister within days. Cameron announced his resignation after British voters rejected his advice and chose to leave the European Union in a referendum last month, though he wasn't expected to step down until September.
Leadsom withdrew after a weekend uproar over comments she made suggesting that being a mother would be an advantage in the job. Leadsom has children; May does not.
In an interview with the Times of London, Leadsom said: "I don't really know Theresa very well, but I am sure she will be really, really sad she doesn't have children. So I don't want this to be 'Andrea has got children, Theresa hasn't,' because I think that would be really horrible. But genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake."
"She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next," Leadsom said.
Leadsom, 53, immediately cried foul at the way in which the Times reported the remarks, which ran under the headline "Being a mother gives me edge on May- Leadsom." She accused the Times of "gutter journalism" and demanded a retraction.
It wasn't clear whether the flap affected Leadsom's decision to drop out. She said in a brief announcement that she did not believe she had sufficient support within the party to remain in the race.
Leadsom said "business needs certainty" in the wake of Britain's vote to leave the European Union, which has unsettled the markets and sent the value of the pound plunging.
She said Britain needed a government that would "move quickly to set out what an independent United Kingdom's framework for business looks like.
"We now need a new prime minister in place as soon as possible," Leadsom said.
May was in favor of the UK remaining in the EU, while Leadsom campaigned for the "leave" side.
The field of candidates to replace Cameron had already been narrowed from five to two, but Leadsom's announcement was a surprise as a final decision wasn't expected until September. Because the Conservative Party is in power, only its 150,000 members get to pick the party leader, who by default becomes prime minister.
Before the announcement, Leadsom had apologized to May, telling Monday's Daily Telegraph newspaper that she believed that having children has "no bearing on the ability to be PM."
"I deeply regret that anyone has got the impression that I think otherwise," she said.
Leadsom had told the Times of London in an interview published Saturday that "I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake."
Leadsom later accused the newspaper of practicing "gutter journalism" and twisting her sentiments in the story, run under the headline "being a mother gives me edge on May -- Leadsom."
The Times released a recording of part of the interview to show it had quoted Leadsom accurately.
Leadsom's rivals said both her comments and her subsequent flip-flopping showed the junior energy minister doesn't have the experience under pressure required to be prime minister. Her allies accused supporters of May - Britain's interior minister - of attempting to undermine Leadsom.
British politics has been thrown into turmoil by the referendum result, which has sparked leadership struggles in both the governing Conservative and main opposition Labour parties.
Labour lawmaker Angela Eagle was Monday launching an attempt to unseat party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran left-winger who has a strong base of support among Labour members but little backing from the party's 229 lawmakers.
Labour legislators have passed a no-confidence motion in Corbyn, and many of his top team in Parliament resigned from their jobs to protest his leadership. He is refusing to resign and says he can win a leadership battle, which would be decided by a vote of party members.
Many Labour lawmakers believe the staunchly socialist, resolutely uncharismatic Corbyn lacks broad appeal to voters. Eagle said he "doesn't connect enough to win an election."