Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May pressed to publish tax returns

Conservative leadership contenders Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May are under pressure to publish their tax returns after fellow frontrunner Michael Gove placed his into the public domain.

The move by the justice secretary in the race to succeed David Cameron as prime minister is believed to be a way of trying to woo pro-Brexit MPs who are drifting to Leadsom, Gove’s rival.

But on Sunday night the business minister Leadsom refused to publish her tax details, saying she only plans to do so if she becomes one of the final two candidates whose names are put before the party’s members. May’s spokesperson said she would release her tax returns shortly.

A source close to Leadsom said: “It is only once you get to the last two that it is appropriate to subject candidates standing to be the next prime minister to that level of scrutiny.”

It comes as Gove and Leadsom slug it out to become the main Leave candidate standing against the home secretary, who is way ahead in the number of declared nominations. While home secretary May is believed to have about 105 declared supporters from the parliamentary party, Gove and Leadsom have close to 25.

Leadsom, a former banker with 25 years’ experience, is believed to have attracted some new supporters over the past 48 hours as MPs turned on Gove for being responsible for ending Boris Johnson’s hopes of being prime minister.

Foreign Office minister James Duddridge and Karen Lumley, MP for Redditch County, came out for Leadsom on Sunday night.

Leadsom could find any tax declaration embarrassing because her family has used legal methods of minimising her family’s tax liabilities. She was visibly caught off guard when questioned on BBC1’s Andrew Marr programme whether, if elected, she would follow David Cameron’s example and publish her tax returns.

She replied: “I’m … I’m … Would I do it? Yes, I mean I’m perfectly happy to publish … I would not want to make MPs have to do that. I don’t believe that people should have to disclose everything in life. I’ll have to think about that. In principle I’ve no problem with it, but I don’t want to set a precedent.”

Her reaction may be related to the tax arrangements of Bandal, a buy-to-let company created in 2003 by Leadsom and her husband, Benjamin, to invest in more than £1m worth of properties in Oxford and Surrey.

The Independent reported that in 2004 the firm raised loans from Kleinwort Benson (Channel Islands) Ltd, based in Jersey, a tax haven.

In 2005, 24% of the shares in the company were transferred to two trusts set up for the benefit of the couple’s children, as a way of avoiding inheritance tax.

The precedent of politicians publishing their tax returns in the UK began in April after Cameron and George Osborne, the chancellor, released their details in the wake of the publication of the Panama papers in the Guardian.

In the BBC interview, Leadsom also insisted that she has been on a “journey” following the disclosure that she had supported remaining in the EU in 2013. According to the Mail on Sunday, the Tory MP told the Hansard Society’s Annual Parliamentary Affairs lecture in 2013: “I think [leaving the EU] would be a disaster for our economy and it would lead to a decade of economic and political uncertainty at a time when the tectonic plates of global success are moving.”

Leadsom, who officially launches her campaign on Monday, told Marr she had changed her mind after studying the EU closely. “During that process I travelled all across Europe with lots of parliamentary colleagues – up to 100 Conservative colleagues supporting this work – to try and get a really decent, fundamental reform of the EU,” she said.

She also indicated that she would trigger Article 50 and start the process for Brexit talks as soon as possible. Leadsom said: “We need to get on with it. We need to seize the opportunity.”

Gove’s returns show his income in 2013/14 when he was education secretary as £117,786, according to the documents. The following year his earnings dropped to £96,071 when he became chief whip in Cameron’s reshuffle. Significantly, he did not have any income from trusts, property and capital gains.

On the same programme, he told Marr that he could not back Johnson because to become the next prime minister would have been a “betrayal” of the country.

Gove, who has been condemned by many colleagues for “stabbing Boris in the back”, said he took the decision “very late” on Wednesday evening after talking to close colleagues and his wife, Sarah Vine.

He insisted he had tried to ring Johnson to tell him about the decision “but the clock was ticking” in the leadership contest. “I came to the conclusion reluctantly, after throwing my heart and soul for four or five days into trying to get Boris to become the next leader of the Conservative party, he could not do that job,” he said.

May has demanded a “proper contest” as polling suggests she is racing towards victory. The frontrunner to replace Cameron dismissed suggestions that one candidate should be given a clear run if he or she receives overwhelming support from Tory MPs in the early rounds of voting. May said she was not taking “anything for granted”, adding there is a need for the arguments to be heard by Tory members.

Powered by article was written by Rajeev Syal and Anushka Asthana, for The Guardian on Monday 4th July 2016 00.01 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010