LONDON: Conservative lawmakers were choosing the final two candidates on Thursday (Jul 7) to replace David Cameron as Britain's next prime minister - and lead the country out of the European Union.
Interior minister Theresa May is the frontrunner, but two Brexit campaigners are battling to be her opponent in the final contest, which will be decided by 150,000 Conservative Party members.
The winner, due to be announced on September 9, will have the task of extricating Britain from its 43-year membership of the EU following the seismic vote in last month's referendum to leave the bloc.
Cameron quit as the results came through, plunging Britain's future into uncertainty.
Sterling has tumbled against the dollar and the Bank of England warned this week that the feared risks to financial stability were starting to materialise.
Conservative MPs are voting through the day, with a decision expected around 1530 GMT, and a flurry of campaigning in the final hours sparked accusations of dirty tricks.
Nick Boles, a lawmaker who backs justice minister Michael Gove for leader, had to apologise after sending a text to supporters of May asking them to vote tactically to back his candidate to keep out their rival, Andrea Leadsom.
"Michael doesn't mind spending two months taking a good thrashing from Theresa if that is what it takes but in the party's interest and the national interest, surely we must all work together to stop AL?" he wrote.
In a penitent tweet, Boles said his candidate was not aware of his manoeuvring - but it will not help Gove's image, after he sensationally withdrew support from leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson to stand himself.
Johnson, the former London mayor and Brexit campaigner who was long tipped to succeed Cameron, then pulled out.
With EU leaders pushing Britain to speed up the race and begin Brexit negotiations, a group of about 30 MPs have signed a letter calling for a new leader to be installed by the end of the month.
'PROSPERITY, NOT AUSTERITY'
Leadsom, a junior energy minister, has secured surprisingly strong support following a sound performance in EU referendum debates, and came second in a first ballot of Tory MPs on Tuesday.
In a speech in London to a room packed with supporters, the 53-year-old said her focus would be on "the continued success of the UK economy".
"Prosperity should be our goal, not austerity," she said.
Leadsom, a leading Brexit campaigner, dismissed predictions of economic disaster, noting the FTSE 100 index of leading shares had rebounded after an initial fall and government borrowing costs were now lower.
The pound hit a fresh 31-year low against the dollar on Wednesday, but Leadsom said a weak currency was good for exports and inward investment.
She said she expected to see economic growth when the post-referendum figures are published, adding: "I believe we have a great future ahead of us.
"We need to unite. We need to be positive."
Questions have been raised about Leadsom's qualifications for the top job, and she did not address reports that she has exaggerated her experience in the financial sector before she entered the House of Commons in 2010.
However, former Tory leader Michael Howard gave her his backing Thursday, saying Cameron had no experience in government before becoming prime minister.
"She's in tune with the majority of people in this country," he told BBC radio.
PROPERTY MARKET HIT
In its warning on Tuesday, the Bank of England highlighted the particular vulnerability of the commercial real estate market in the wake of the EU vote.
The following day three British commercial property funds suspended trading in a wake of a rush to sell, bringing the total to six, with assets totalling around £15 billion (US$19.5 billion).
London-focused property firm Great Portland Estates, which manages a portfolio worth £3.7 billion, on Thursday warned that the capital's economy would suffer a "negative impact" from Brexit.