LONDON • Britain's Interior Minister Theresa May has emerged as the clear front runner as her Conservative Party lawmakers start picking a new leader - who will be prime minister - while shock waves from the Brexit vote hit the property market and sent the pound plunging.
Ms May, who wanted Britain to stay in the European Union (EU) but now says she will lead it out, scooped up 165 votes at the party election on Tuesday.
Unfancied pro-Brexit Junior Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom was her nearest rival with 66 votes, followed by eurosceptic Justice Secretary Michael Gove on 48.
"There is a big job before us: 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," Ms May said following the vote.
"I am the only candidate capable of delivering these three things."
The Brexit heroes of yesterday are now the sad heroes of today... Patriots don't resign when things get difficult, they stay.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, on the resignation of Ukip leader Nigel Farage and Mr Boris Johnson's withdrawal from the Conservative Party's leadership race.
The two bumped out of the race - former defence secretary Liam Fox and Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb - have thrown their support behind Ms May.
European leaders are putting Britain under intense pressure to move fast on triggering the leaving process known as Article 50 and there has been economic turmoil since the Brexit vote left Britain in uncharted waters.
But Ms May, who pitches herself as a pragmatic safe pair of hands capable of unifying the split Tories, says she will not start the formal departure process until the end of the year at the earliest.
The Bank of England, meanwhile, warned on Tuesday that risks to financial stability from Brexit were starting to "crystallise", and reduced the size of the buffer it requires commercial banks to hold in a bid to boost lending.
The pound yesterday fell to a new 31-year low against the US dollar and three commercial property funds suspended trading, citing uncertainty since the referendum.
"Dominoes are starting to fall" in Britain's lucrative commercial property market, said senior analyst Laith Khalaf at investment company Hargreaves Lansdown.
Britain on June 23 voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent in favour of leaving the European Union, the first member state ever to do so.
The result has thrown the whole European project into question and threatens the United Kingdom's own unity since Scotland, which voted to stay in the EU, is raising the prospect of independence.
Ms May, who campaigned for the Remain camp, now says "Brexit means Brexit", and has ruled out an early election or a second referendum - both seen as possible ways of rowing back from the result.
Ms Leadsom, who campaigned for Leave, wants exit negotiations to be "as short as possible" in order to avoid "prolonged uncertainty".
There is another ballot today before the names of the two leading contenders are put to a final vote by 150,000 Tory members, and the result will be declared on Sept 9.
The referendum vote has shaken Britain's political order, plunging both the ruling Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party - whose leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing a drawn-out rebellion by his MPs - into chaos.
Leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage resigned as head of the UK Independence Party (Ukip) on Monday, saying his "political ambition has been achieved", while former London mayor Boris Johnson, a main figure in the Leave campaign and tipped to be the next PM, pulled out of the Tory leadership race.
"The Brexit heroes of yesterday are now the sad heroes of today," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has told the European Parliament. "Patriots don't resign when things get difficult, they stay."
The Brexit vote has sparked a fierce debate in Brussels on whether the EU should close ranks and press for more union or opt for a looser grouping.
Hungary's eurosceptic government on Tuesday announced a referendum on a troubled EU migrant quota plan.
And Austria's Finance Minister Joerg Schelling has said he did not think Britain would ever quit the EU, telling Handelsblatt newspaper that the bloc's leaders were discussing "all possibilities".