Andrea Leadsom has said she did not like the gay marriage legislation and would want to repeal the foxhunting ban, in a pitch to the rightwing grassroots of the Conservative party who will vote for the new leader.
The leading Brexit candidate outlined a range of policy proposals on Thursday as Conservative MPs voted on the final shortlist of two candidates to be put to members.
Asked by ITV about her views on gay marriage, she said: “I believe that the love of same-sex couples is every bit as valuable as that of opposite-sex couples. But nevertheless, my own view is that marriage in the biblical sense is very clearly, from the many, many Christians who wrote to me on this subject, in their opinion, can only be between a man and a woman. I don’t agree with them to be specific.
“But what I do think is that I would have preferred civil partnership to be available to heterosexual and gay couples and for marriage to have remained as a Christian service for men and women who wanted to commit in the eyes of God.
“Civil partnerships are called marriage as well. The concern I had was the potential compulsion for the Church of England. I don’t think the Anglican church should be forced down a route when many Christians aren’t comfortable about it.”
She said there was “very clear hurt” caused by the legislation to many Christians and claimed the UK has “muddled the terms of marriage, civil partnership, registry office, church”.
“I didn’t really like the legislation, that was the problem, but I absolutely support gay marriage,” she said.
Leadsom also said she would commit to holding a vote to repeal the hunting ban as it was “absolutely not proven to be in the interest of animal welfare whatsoever”.
She said there was a “need to exterminate vermin, which foxes are” and called for a “proper licensed regime”.
She later told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that she “believes the love of same-sex couples is as good as heterosexual couples” but was “not happy” with the gay marriage bill, leading to her abstention in the vote.
The energy minister is battling Michael Gove, the justice secretary, to make it on to the shortlist against the frontrunner, Theresa May, with the winner due to be announced on Thursday evening.
Leadsom is the insurgent candidate who has won support from colleagues on the Tory right, who supported her with a rally in Westminster on Thursday where they chanted: “What do we want? Andrea for leader. When do we want it? Now.”
She gave a speech on the economy, promising her goal would be “prosperity, not austerity” and pledging to be a prime minister of tolerance and hope who would help Britain be the greatest nation on earth.
“I’m an optimist. I truly believe we can be the greatest nation on earth. As we show the UK is once again open to the world and united in our new destiny, so we will expand our horizons,” she said.
However, she has come under pressure in recent days over claims about her 25-year finance career, which she attempted to silence by publishing her CV.
After critics raised fresh questions about inconsistencies on Wednesday, Leadsom told the BBC that she had never claimed to be a fund manager, although she worked for fund management companies, and stood by her assertion that she had managed large teams of about 40 to 50 people at Barclays.
Some of her supporters have claimed she managed billions in funds and, in the House of Commons in 2010, she said: “I have been in investment banking and funds management for 23 years.” Her allies say she was always clear she worked in the fund management industry rather than specifically as a fund manager.
Leadsom said she stood by her CV and did not regret anything about how she has presented her experience before parliament.
“My CV as I’ve presented it is exactly accurate,” she said. “There is nothing to regret, my CV is exactly accurate. That I’ve absolutely set out the jobs that I’ve done. But, as I say, I missed out my job at the weekend in Sainsbury’s.
“So, you know, I can understand people saying, ‘You haven’t done this, you haven’t done that’ – but where do you stop? I could add all manner of work experience too if that was useful.”
She also promised to publish her tax return if she got on the ballot, saying it was “boring”, after failing to do so alongside her rivals Gove and May earlier this week.
She did not take questions after the speech as she rushed out to a waiting car. But she went on to do a series of television interviews in which she said she would review the HS2 high-speed rail project, repeal the foxhunting ban and reiterated that she did not like the gay marriage legislation.
Her comments appear designed to appeal to the 150,000 Conservative members who will take the ultimate decision on who should succeed David Cameron as the UK’s prime minister.
May’s response appears to be to try to outflank Leadsom to the right on the issue of immigration. Leadsom promised to allow all EU citizens currently in the country to stay, but May’s campaign suggested this would allow foreign criminals to stay.
A spokesman for May said: “Andrea Leadsom’s commitment to give permanent residence to foreign criminals is concerning – and is exactly the kind of misjudgment that her inexperience can cause. That’s why we need strong, proven leadership – something only Theresa can offer.”
Leadsom’s appeal to the right of the party is already worrying her rivals. Allies of Gove concede that she is likely to be the second candidate alongside May and that she may well appeal to the grassroots of the Conservatives, the way Jeremy Corbyn has captured the imagination of Labour members.
They played down the idea that supporters of Gove and May might collude to exclude Leadsom from the shortlist. Gove’s campaign chief, Nick Boles, had to apologise on Wednesday after pleading with fellow MPs to stop the “frightening” prospect of Leadsom becoming prime minister.
Ahead of the vote, Leadsom gave a 12-minute speech on the economy that suggested she was ditching the strategy pursued by George Osborne for the past six years.
The audience cheered as she said: “Prosperity should be our goal, not austerity. I want to spread prosperity to every corner of our country. I want to help create more jobs, because we need to hear and heed millions of our fellow citizens who feel and fear our country’s leaders are not worrying about them enough.”
Echoing messages of Boris Johnson and the Vote Leave campaign, she said she wanted to listen to those who did not like bosses of big businesses getting “telephone number salaries” and instead create “higher pay for the many”.
“I am with you and I want you to share in the great future for this country,” she said. “I want to lead a nation where anyone who aims high can achieve their dreams. My first task is to show how great our nation is.”
To wild applause from Conservative activist supporters, Leadsom said she wanted to “banish the pessimists” in a speech that blended patriotism with aspirational values.
Addressing concerns about the economic consequences of Brexit, she said the lower pound would be good for exports and claimed the stock market had already recovered. Leadsom also sought to reassure the financial markets that Britain could cope with leaving the EU. The FTSE 100 index has recovered losses following the Brexit vote but the FTSE 250, which includes smaller firms, is nearly 10% down on the day of the vote.
“No one needs to fear our decision to leave the EU,” she said. “Trade must be the top priority, continued tariff-free trade with the EU, continued free trade with those countries we have agreements with as a current member of the EU, and vitally seeing the opportunities to take up free trade agreements with fast growing economies round the world.”
She said the UK was “open for business and a great place to employ people” and believed Britain has “a great future ahead of us”.
One of her backers, Steve Baker, who chairs the Conservatives for Britain group of leave MPs, said he still believed in reducing the deficit but the exact policy would be a matter for Leadsom as prime minister.
“This is a time to focus on how Britain as an open trading nation can look outwards to the whole world to make sure this country is absolutely as prosperous as it can be,” he said. “I am personally committed to balancing the books. The way that will be done is a matter for Andrea and her cabinet and the next government.”
Heather Wheeler, another MP on the rally for Leadsom, said: “I’m really proud of the uplifting speech Andrea gave this morning, there is no reason for anyone to be be pessimistic. I don’t accept that at all [that the speech contained no policies]. I was there, I heard several different policies that she had.
“She has a long history of working in international finance markets, I’m completely confident in her backstory, and that she has what it takes to be a great leader. She’s not part of the Westminster bubble, she’s a Midlands MP. She’s absolutely right that people need to stop talking down the country.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th July 2016 15.33 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010