Andrea Leadsom has pulled out of the race to become the next Conservative leader in the “best interests of the country”, paving the way for Theresa May to be crowned prime minister.
Warning that a nine-week leadership contest would destabilise the country at a critical time following the Brexit vote, Leadsom added: “Business needs certainty, a strong and unified government must move quickly to set out what an independent UK’s framework for business looks like.”
Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said he would now formally confirm May as the new leader of the Conservative party. That will clear the path for the home secretary to become prime minister.
Leadsom said the support of 84 MPs was a great expression of confidence but admitted that it was less than 25% of the parliamentary party and not sufficient support if she were to win the ballot of Conservative members.
“Strong leadership is needed immediately,” added Leadsom, praising her opponent, and adding that May would honour the result of the Brexit referendum.
Leadsom, who campaigned to leave the EU, that she believed the home secretary would act upon the wishes of the public.
“I believe that in leaving the EU a bright future awaits,” she said. “Theresa May won the support of 60% of Tory colleagues. She is ideally placed to implement Brexit on the best possible terms for the British people and she has promised she will do so.”
Leadsom had been shaken by the scale of the response to a newspaper interview in which she suggested that the fact she was a mother meant she had a larger stake in society than May.
She admitted that she was left in tears at the weekend after a stream of colleagues attacked her on television and in newspapers, with claims that she was inexperienced and had been insensitive.
An hour before the statement, May had launched her national leadership campaign with a speech in Birmingham where she presented herself as the candidate of unity and experience who will make a success of Brexit.
Anna Soubry, the business minister, said Leadsom’s comments on motherhood meant she was not “PM material” and called on her to pull out for her own sake and that of the party.
There were also claims, denied by MPs, that up to 20 Conservatives might resign if she became prime minister. And a source in the Vote Leave campaign called her “Andrea Loathsome” and said it was a “joke” to suggest she was a high-profile figure in the campaign.
Iain Duncan Smith said Leadsom had become the victim of Tory establishment “black ops”, arguing that “project fear” had morphed into “project smear”. Some suggested that Leadsom never meant to be the leading Brexit candidate in the final two, as she expected Boris Johnson to play that role.
She had also came under intense pressure over claims that she exaggerated positions that she had held in the City in her CV.
This article was written by Anushka Asthana Political editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 11th July 2016 12.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010