Andrea Leadsom pulls out of Conservative leadership race

Energy minister’s withdrawal apparently leaves way clear for Theresa May to enter No 10, but Labour and Liberal Democrats criticise ‘Tory stitch-up’

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Andrea Leadsom has pulled out of the race to become the next Conservative leader, saying it is in the “best interests of the country”, paving the way for Theresa May to become prime minister.

Warning that a nine-week leadership contest would destabilise the country at a critical time following the Brexit vote, Leadsom said: “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, 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.

Brady said he was “not discussing coronations”, insisting that a proper process would be followed. However, there is no question of returning to any alternative candidates.

Downing Street sources said discussions were under way about the timing of David Cameron’s departure from No 10. The handover of power had not been expected to take place until after the conclusion of a ballot of 150,000 Conservative members on 9 September, but is now expected to happen within days.

May has already come under pressure from opposition parties to call an early general election, something that she has promised Conservative MPs she will not do.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said people deserved more than a “Tory stitch-up”.

“Just 13 months after the last election the Conservatives have plunged the UK into chaos. It is simply inconceivable that Theresa May should be crowned prime minister without even having won an election in her own party, let alone the country,” said Farron. “There must be an election. The Conservatives must not be allowed to ignore the electorate, their mandate is shattered and lies in ruins.”

Jon Trickett, Labour’s election coordinator and a shadow cabinet member, agreed with the Liberal Democrats that it now looked like “the coronation of a new Conservative prime minister”.

He said. “It is crucial, given the instability caused by the Brexit vote, that the country has a democratically elected prime minister. I am now putting the whole of the party on a general election footing.”

Chris Grayling, who chaired the home secretary’s campaign, said she was “enormously honoured to have been entrusted with this task” by so many parliamentary colleagues.

He said Leadsom’s actions had shown “what a principled and decent politician she is and how willing she is to put the interests of the country before her own. She is a true public servant.” Grayling added: “Now is the time for us to unite.”

Leadsom, the energy minister, said the support of 84 MPs was a great expression of confidence, but admitted 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, said she believed the home secretary would act upon the wishes of the public.

Theresa May
Theresa May after winning a second ballot of MPs in the Tory leadership race. Photograph: Hannah Mckay/EPA

“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 being a mother meant she had a larger stake in society than May.

She admitted she had been left in tears at the weekend after a stream of colleagues said 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 would make a success of Brexit.

Michael Gove, who was eliminated from the leadership contest last week, said: “Andrea Leadsom spoke with great dignity and courage today. I wish her every success in the future. We should now move as quickly as possible to ensure Theresa May can take over as leader. She has my full support as our next prime minister.”

Boris Johnson, who dropped out of the race after Gove questioned his leadership abilities, called Leadsom’s decision “brave and principled”. He said: “I have no doubt Theresa will make an excellent party leader and prime minister and I’m encouraged that she’s made it clear that Brexit means Brexit – that we will leave the EU. It is vital that we respect the will of the people and get on with exploiting new opportunities for this country.”

As Leadsom finished her statement, a group of hecklers shouted: “Another Brexiteer leaves the scene of the crime.” Some of her supporters were in shock. Edward Leigh, an arch-Eurosceptic MP, arrived a few minutes after Leadsom had given her statement, asking assembled supporters: “What the fuck is going on, why is she resigning?”

He said: “I found out 20 minutes ago in the tea room. I don’t know who was in the loop. Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit, we’re going to hold her to that. We’ll never know now, but I personally think that we should have had a leader who had been campaigning to leave the EU. But it’s too late now.”

Owen Paterson, a former environment secretary, said he believed Leadsom could have won. “I have no doubt at all she would have been the membership’s favourite,” he said. “I’ve been getting messages since this news came out; people were planning major events over the weekend, people were in correspondence with me and wanted to set up hustings, big events. It is absolutely incumbent on the next prime minister that those 17.4 million people get what they voted for.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary who claimed there was a “black ops” attempt to denigrate Leadsom, said rival MPs had to examine their behaviour. “I do think there are people in the party who need to examine their own consciences about the way they’ve behaved and I think they now need to recognise that this is not the way to treat colleagues and I hope they will reflect on that,” he said. “Maybe, just maybe, putting your country first ahead of personal ambitions is not a bad thing.”

Duncan Smith said the decision to quit had been down to the pressure Leadsom was under. “Each individual must make the decision for themselves, but I think the circumstances of the last few days may give you some indication as to why that was,” he said.

John Redwood said pro-Brexit MPs backing Leadsom would offer their support to May. He said he wanted a “smooth and rapid exit from the EU”, calling on May to fulfil the will of the British people.

He said: “She [Leadsom] decided that she wasn’t getting enough support from MPs although she’d come a good second, and could have gone on and won in the country.”

Redwood compared the situation to that of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, saying the Conservatives did not want to end up in a situation where there was strong support from the membership but limited backing from MPs.

Chris Grayling
Chris Grayling paid tribute to Leadsom following her decision to quit the leadership race. Photograph: Rick Findler/PA

Before Leadsom’s announcement, there were claims – denied by MPs – that up to 20 Conservatives might have resigned if she became prime minister. A source in the Vote Leave campaign called her “Andrea Loathsome” and said suggestions she was a high-profile figure in the campaign were a “joke”. Leadsom had also faced intense pressure over claims that she exaggerated her CV.

Although Leadsom blamed the lack of support from MPs for her decision, Tim Loughton, her campaign manager, said she had faced an onslaught of personal attacks from colleagues and journalist.

“It is absolutely not the job of media commentators to ‘big up’ politicians whether in this leadership contest or elsewhere in politics,” he said. “But neither should it be their compulsion constantly try to trip them up. Using spin and underhand tactics against decent people whose prime motivation is to serve has for too long undermined the confidence of the public in our politics. This need not be inevitable.”

Loughton said Leadsom’s “selfless decision” would allow the party and country to move swiftly towards more stability.


Anushka Asthana, Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot

The GuardianTramp

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