Andrea Leadsom arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London to appear on the BBC One current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday July 3, 2016. See PA story POLITICS Conservatives. Photo credit should read: Rick Findler/PA Wire
Andrea Leadsom © PA

Andrea Leadsom, the pro-Brexit energy minister, will on Monday launch her bid to stop Theresa May becoming prime minister, and seek to play down comments she made in 2013 that leaving the EU would be “a disaster”.

Ms Leadsom is regarded by many Tory MPs as the best placed candidate from the Brexit camp to succeed David Cameron, after signs that Michael Gove’s campaign was struggling to get off the ground.

Mr Gove’s betrayal and political assassination of Boris Johnson, his old friend, has left him damaged in the eyes of many Tory MPs, who fear he is not the best person to bring the party back together.

Instead, some pro-Leave Tories are turning to Ms Leadsom, a 53-year-old grammar school girl and former banker, to ensure that the new premier pursues tough exit negotiations with the EU.

She won the backing on Monday of leading Leave campaigner John Redwood, a former cabinet minister who previously backed Mr Johnson. Mr Redwood wrote on his website: “She has a fresh and determined mind, with the qualities necessary to get us out of the EU quickly and with the minimum of disruption.”

But the emergence of Ms Leadsom, a devout Christian and mother-of-three, as a contender for the Tory crown has put her under intense political scrutiny for the first time since her election as an MP in 2010.

The Mail on Sunday newspaper called her a “hypocrite” after unearthing comments from 2013 in which she said that leaving the EU would be “a disaster for our economy and would risk “a decade of economic and political uncertainty”.

Ms Leadsom told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme on Sunday : “The person who leads the country has to be someone who believes in the opportunities in leaving the EU.” Ms May was a low-profile supporter of the Remain campaign.

Ms Leadsom would be one of the least experienced prime ministers of modern times having served as a junior minister since 2014 and been an MP for only six years.

But Anne Marie Morris, fellow Tory MP and Leadsom supporter, says she has “real life business experience” and said “she is no novice,” describing her as “hard lady (who will) will drive the country forward.”

Meanwhile Ukip has been accused of plotting to install Ms Leadsom as Tory leader after one of Nigel Farage’s biggest donors backed her campaign.

Arron Banks, the businessman who funded Ukip and the Leave.EU campaign, said he would throw his weight behind Mrs Leadsom, whom he described as the “breakout star” of the referendum.

Tory MPs vote on Tuesday to whittle down a list of five candidates — which also includes former defence secretary Liam Fox and work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb — to a shortlist of two.

Ms Leadsom saw her profile rise during the referendum campaign due to her performance in television debates, and has business experience, having worked for Barclays and Invesco Perpetual before entering parliament.

She can be politically courageous: in 2012 she risked wrecking her political career by calling on George Osborne to apologise after the chancellor tried to link his Labour opposite number Ed Balls with the Libor-rigging scandal.

She has won respect across party lines for her work in setting up charities to help parents having difficulties bonding with their newborn children, but she is not without critics.

Her one-year stint from 2014-15 at the Treasury as City minister was seen inside 1 Horseguards Road as “a disaster” by one official. “She was the worst minister we’ve ever had.” Unlike Ms May, she has also not held down a cabinet job.

Ms Leadsom’s allies say that Mr Osborne blocked her promotion to the cabinet and after the last election the chancellor asked for her to be moved out of the Treasury. She was transferred by David Cameron to the energy department.

“She found it difficult to understand issues or take decisions,” said another Treasury official. “She was monomaniacal, seeing the EU as the source of every problem. She alienated officials by continually complaining about poor drafting.”

On Sunday she appeared unprepared for questions about releasing her tax returns before the leadership vote: she had previously defended her use of offshore banking arrangements.

Asked by Andrew Marr if she would publish her tax returns before the Tory leadership contest, she said: “I’ll have to think about that.”

“Could you just say yes?” Mr Marr asked.

“All right, yes,” she replied.

However on Monday one of her aides said she would not publish her tax details “until and unless” she reaches the final ballot of Conservative party members.

Ms Leadsom also said Article 50, the legal mechanism for leaving the EU, should be triggered quickly, setting in motion a two-year process for Brexit.

That puts her at odds with other leading contenders including Mrs May, who told ITV’s Peston on Sunday that Britain had to be clear about its negotiating stance before invoking Article 50.

Ms Leadsom abstained in the House of Commons vote on gay marriage — a touchstone issue for liberal Tories — and in her role at the energy and climate change department she is on the pro-fracking side of the argument. Before she joined the department, she said she questioned whether climate change “was real” but is now “completely persuaded”.

As the Tory leadership contest unfolds, Ms Leadsom hopes she can pick up votes from pro-Brexit Tory candidates Mr Fox and Mr Gove, if they are eliminated or drop out in the early stages.

If she makes it on to a shortlist of two with Mrs May, about 125,000 Tory activists would then have a choice between two women to follow in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher, who was toppled as Britain’s only female prime minister 26 years ago.

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