UK foreign minister Hammond backs May to be prime minister

LONDON: British foreign minister Philip Hammond backed Theresa May to be the next prime minister on Monday, saying the interior minister had the pragmatism to get the best divorce deal for Britain from the European Union.

Hammond, who campaigned to remain in the EU, said the next leader would have to make a trade-off between continued access to Europe's single market, following Britain's vote last month to leave the EU, and limiting freedom of movement.

"Unfettered free movement of EU nationals, as it has worked hitherto, is no longer on the table," Hammond said in a column for The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"Our priority must be securing the best access we can for British businesses to the single market in goods and services, but within the limitations imposed by that political reality."

May, who is the longest serving interior minister in over a hundred years, is the odds-on favourite to succeed David Cameron after he announced his resignation in the wake of the EU referendum result.

May's nearest rivals in the race are "leave" campaigners Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove, and Conservative lawmakers have their first round of voting on the decision on Tuesday.

"To get the best deal will need a steady hand, a steely nerve and sound judgement," Hammond said. "The deal we get, and with it Britain's economic future, will depend on our next prime minister having those qualities."

"That is why I back Theresa May as the person best equipped to protect our nation's interest in these challenging times."