Conservative leadership election: Boris Johnson backs Andrea Leadsom for Prime Minister as Tory MPs vote
Boris Johnson has given his backing to Andrea Leadsom in the Conservative Party leadership campaign, in a move which could end Michael Gove’s hopes of becoming Prime Minister.
The former Mayor of London is supporting Mrs Leadsom after being forced to withdraw from the contest when he was abandoned by Mr Gove last week.
In an intervention that will transform the Tory leadership race, Mr Johnson praises Mrs Leadsom’s “zap, drive and determination”.
He says she combines a “better understanding of finance” than almost any other MP with “considerable experience of Government”.
It represents a significant blow to Mr Gove as many of Mr Johnson’s supporters could now follow his lead and back Mrs Leadsom.
Mrs Leadsom is now likely to emerge as the main challenger to Theresa May, the Home Secretary.
It came after a poll of Conservative activists by the ConservativeHome website found that Mrs Leadsom has pulled ahead of Mrs May.
The poll found that she had the support of 38 per cent of party members, compared to Mrs May’s 37 per cent.
Mrs Leadsom launched her “fresh leadership” bid on Monday with a pledge to heal the divisions in Britain exposed by the EU referendum. She vowed to end the free movement of EU migrants and directly criticised Mrs May for failing to guarantee that those already living in Britain can stay.
The 53-year-old energy minister was feted by Eurosceptic Tory MPs at the launch with Iain Duncan Smith, a former cabinet minister, declared that she was “the real deal”.
The Telegraph understands that Mr Johnson had been considering giving his support to Mrs May but has ultimately chosen Mrs Leadsom.
He said: “Andrea Leadsom offers the zap, the drive and the determination essential for the next leader of this country.
“She is level-headed, kind, trustworthy, approachable and the possessor of a good sense of humour. She has specialised in the EU question and successfully campaigned for leave and will be well placed to help forge a great post-Brexit future for Britain and Europe.
“Above all she possesses the qualities needed to bring together leavers and remainers in the weeks and months ahead. I will be voting for Andrea Leadsom tomorrow .”
His support will lift Mrs Leadsom’s camp amid concerns that she had been faltering in the face of attacks by Mr Gove’s supporters and Mrs May’s backers.
She was said to have endured a “car crash” hustings in front of Conservative MPs on Monday night as she failed to distance herself from Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign.
Mrs Leadsom was repeatedly asked by backbenchers if she is working with Mr Farage’s Ukip party or Arron Banks and his Leave.EU group which has publicly endorsed her.
Mrs Leadsom said that she was not working with Ukip but failed to answer questions about Leave.EU, the group Mr Farage backed during the referendum campaign.
Mrs May is the clear front-runner among MPs, with over 100 backbenchers supporting her – more than her four rivals combined.
The Home Secretary, who backed the Remain campaign ahead of the referendum, also has the support of at least 17 MPs who backed Leave.
In contrast, her Leave-supporting leadership rivals Mrs Leadsom and Mr Gove have just a handful of Remain MPs backing their campaigns. Mrs May has been amassing the support of senior MPs who backed the Leave campaign in a bid to become the “unity candidate” in the Tory leadership race.
David Davis, a prominent Leave supporter, announced he was supporting Mrs May, in what was seen as a major boost to her campaign.
In contrast, Mrs Leadsom and Mr Gove, who both backed Leave and are considered to be Mrs May’s biggest rivals, have the backing of few Remain MPs. Just two of Mrs Leadsom’s 37 supporters – Dan Poulter and James Morris – voted Remain in the election. Ms Leadsom said that her business career gave her key skills for the role of a prime minister dealing with Brexit talks.
“I know how to strike a deal in a tough negotiation. And I know, as a woman, how to succeed in a man’s world and how to fight the unfortunate prejudice that many working mothers still experience,” she said.
Ms Leadsom insisted she had “no allegiance” to Ukip as she said the Brexit negotiating team would come from within the Government.
The minister would not be drawn on when she would invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which sets withdrawal from the EU in train, stating: “I’m not putting deadlines on it.”
Insisting immigration would be a key feature of talks, she said there was no need for an early general election.
“We want to be able to control the numbers that are coming here. I don’t think there should be another general election,” she said.