A number of prominent Conservative leave campaigners have backed the energy minister Andrea Leadsom as their next leader after Michael Gove put Boris Johnson out of the race.
Leadsom, who represented the pro-Brexit team in several television debates, threw her hat into the ring for the job on Thursday morning, just as Gove made his shock announcement and Theresa May gave her declaration speech.
Leadsom, Gove and Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, are now the three pro-Brexit MPs in the five-strong field. On the other side, May and Stephen Crabb, the work and pensions secretary, supported remaining in the EU but have pledged to deliver the verdict of British voters.
As Johnson crashed out of the race and May became the favourite, Leadsom, a former banker, said only a Brexiter could deliver on the referendum result.
She told Sky News the Conservative leader “has to be someone who will deliver on the promise of the referendum because they can see the huge advantages and believe in them”.
“I think it is very difficult for someone who campaigned to stay in and who thinks there will be disaster if we leave and so on to suddenly turn it around and start believing that we can make a go of it.”
After a day of turmoil in the party, Leadsom had at least 10 publicly declared backers, including Steve Baker, the chair of the Conservatives for Britain group of leave MPs, and Penny Mordaunt, a defence minister.
She said she was “shocked and disappointed” that Johnson had withdrawn, calling him “a really good man and a really good candidate”. But she also defended Gove, whose last-minute decision to run forced Johnson out of the race.
“Michael is just a brilliant person and no one can be in any doubt that he was taking the view about what is best for the country,” she said. “People really should accept that both Boris and Michael have given up a lot for what they see as the right thing for this country.”
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