Andrea Leadsom has announced she is pulling out the race to become the new Tory leader, effectively clearing the way for Theresa May to be named as David Cameron's replacement as prime minister.

Leadsom was set to go head to head with the home secretary after they were elected as the final two candidates following two ballots from fellow Tory MPs. The pair beat other candidates Michael Gove, Stephen Crabb and Liam Fox to be named the final two.

The announcement from Leadsom now means May will automatically be declared the new leader of the Conservative Party and they will not be holding another contest. Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative's 1922 Committee, confirmed May will formally become the new leader once the party board is consulted.

Brady added: "Following the decision of Mrs Andrea Leadsom to withdraw from the Conservative leadership contest the Right Honourable Theresa May is the only remaining candidate, the process is now that I as chair of the 1922 committee and the board of the Conservative Party must formally confirm that Mrs May is the new leader of the Conservative party."

Leadsom said it will be in the interest of the country if a new prime minster is installed "immediately" to "end this uncertainty". Leadsom now backs May to take over Cameron as the new Tory leader.

She added: "The best interests of our country inspired me to stand for the leadership, I believe that in leaving the EU a bright future awaits where all our people can share in a new prosperity, freedom and democracy. The referendum result demonstrated a clear desire for change, strong leadership is needed urgently to begin the work of withdrawing from the EU.

Andrea Leadsom
Andrea Leadsom speaks to the media as she announces her withdrawal from the Conservative leadership race at Cowley Street race Carl Court/ Getty Images

"A nine week leadership campaign art such a critical moment for our country is highly undesirable – business needs certainty. A strong and unified government must move quickly to set out what an independent UK's framework for business looks like. It is also essential that current EU workers in the UK and businesses that employ them know where they stand.

"Theresa May carries over 60% of support from the parliamentary party, she is ideally placed to implement Brexit on the best possible terms for the British people and she has promised she will do so.

"For me personally to have won the support of 84 of my colleagues last Thursday was a great expression of confidence for which I am incredibly grateful. Nevertheless this is less than 25% of the parliamentary party and after careful consideration I do not believe this is sufficient support to win a strong and stable government should I win the leadership election

"I have however concluded that the interests of our country are best served by the immediate appointment of a strong and well-supported Prime Minister – I am therefore withdrawing from the leadership election and I wish Theresa May the very greatest of success. I assure her of my full support."

Leadsom's decision to stand down comes after she was heavily criticised over the weekend for comments in which she appeared to suggest she would make a better prime minster than May because she is a mother.

Speaking to the Times on Saturday, Leadsom said: "I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn't have children so I don't want this to be 'Andrea has 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 originally said she was "beyond anger and disgust" at The Times for running the story on their front page. Describing the story as "gutter journalism" and demanding a transcript and audio of the interview, which the newspaper and journalist Rachel Sylvester provided.

Leadsom said she has now apologised to May for the comments, telling the Daily Telegraph she has been "under attack [and] under enormous pressure" since making them. "It has been shattering," she added.