The UK home secretary is in pole position after getting the votes of half the Tory party’s MPs (165) in the first round of the contest on Tuesday, and securing the backing of two rivals.
She is expected to be confirmed today as one of the two contenders chosen by MPs to go forward in a vote of around 150,000 Conservative members to elect a new leader, and prime minister, on September 9.
In a statement ahead of an MPs’ hustings, Ms May said that Tuesday’s vote showed she was the only candidate able to “unite our party and the country, to negotiate the best possible deal as we leave the EU, and to make Britain work for everyone”.
“I have been clear from the start: the party and the country deserve an open, honest, robust debate — and the next leader needs to have won a mandate to lead.
“So there should be no deals, no tactical voting, and no coronation.”
Ms May’s supporters have dismissed suggestions that some of her backers tactically “lent” their support to justice secretary Michael Gove on Tuesday in the hope of keeping energy minister and prominent Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom off the ballot paper.
Although she enjoys an unassailable lead among MPs, some supporters fear her path to the leadership could be blocked by Eurosceptic activists’ preference for a candidate, like Ms Leadsom, who actively campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.
Former defence secretary Liam Fox was eliminated from the contest after polling lowest among the five contenders, and offered his backing to Ms May, saying: “Experience matters.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, who quit after coming fourth, said Ms May was the only candidate who could “unite our party and form a cohesive and strong government”.
Ms May’s dominant first-round performance and Ms Leadsom’s strong showing in second place with 66 votes paves the way for an all-woman run-off.
In a move that will put pressure on her rival, Ms May published her tax return, meaning that Ms Leadsom is the only remaining candidate yet to do so.
Her campaign manager, Tim Loughton MP, said it was “not an issue” and told the BBC she would publish a summary “as soon as she gets time away from speaking to colleagues and fighting this campaign”.