Boris backs Leadsom for Tory leader - in serious blow to Gove
Boris Johnson has given his backing to Andrea Leadsom in the Conservative Party leadership campaign, in a move that could end Michael Gove's hopes of becoming the UK's next prime minister.
The former mayor of London is supporting Ms 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 Ms 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 Ms Leadsom.
Ms 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 Ms Leadsom has pulled ahead of Ms May.
The poll found that she had the support of 38pc of party members, compared with Ms May's 37pc.
Ms Leadsom launched her "fresh leadership" bid yesterday 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 Ms 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, declaring that she was "the real deal".
In a statement, Mr Johnson said: "Andrea Leadsom offers the zap, the drive and the determination essential for the next leader of this country. She has long championed the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. She has a better understanding of finance than almost anyone else in parliament. She has considerable experience of government.
"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 therefore 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 Ms Leadsom's camp amid concerns that she had been faltering in the face of attacks by Mr Gove's supporters and Ms May's backers.
She was said to have endured a "car crash" hustings in front of Conservative MPs last night as she failed to distance herself from Nigel Farage's Brexit campaign.
Ms Leadsom was repeatedly asked by backbenchers if she is working with Mr Farage's Ukip party or with Arron Banks and his Leave.EU group, which has publicly endorsed her.
Ms 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.
Ms May is the clear frontrunner among MPs, with more than 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 Conservative party leadership rivals Ms Leadsom and Mr Gove have just a handful of Remain MPs backing their campaigns.
Ms 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 that he was supporting Ms May, in what was seen as a major boost to her campaign.
In contrast, Ms Leadsom and Mr Gove, who both backed Leave and are considered to be Ms May's biggest rivals, have the backing of few Remain MPs. Just two of Ms Leadsom's 37 supporters - Dan Poulter and James Morris - voted Remain in the election. (© Daily Telegraph, London)