- Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom says “anything can happen” when asked about a future bid to replace Theresa May as party leader.
- The House of Commons leader declares support for Prime Minister Theresa May on her future but does not rule out another leadership bid.
- Leadsom says Boris Johnson “was right” to pen articles on Brexit for The Sun and The Telegraph.
- The Tory MP also urges EU negotiators to be more flexible and admits aspects of EU membership could continue during in an implementation phase.
MANCHESTER — Andrea Leadsom has refused to rule out a bid to replace Prime Minister Theresa May as Conservative Party leader, saying that “anything can happen” in an exclusive interview with Business Insider.
Asked by BI whether she can “completely rule out” a bid to succeed May when the prime minister leaves her post, the MP for South Northamptonshire said she did not want to “speculate” but refused to rule out another run at the top job.
Speaking to BI at the party’s Autumn conference in Manchester, Leadsom said: “I don’t want to speculate about the future.
“I’ve been clear that I am totally behind Theresa May for as long as she wants and intends to remain prime minister.”
She then added: “I am not speculating about what happens in the future. Anything can happen.”
Leadsom launched a bid to replace David Cameron as Tory leader and prime minister last year and made it the final two before dropping out of the race to allow May a free run at the position.
Friends of the Conservative MP told BI earlier this year that dozens of MPs have urged her to consider another leadership bid following the party’s shock failure to retain a majority in the June general election.
Leadsom, who May appointed as House of Commons Leader following the election, spoke to BI just minutes after Boris Johnson had delivered his eagerly-anticipated conference speech.
The foreign secretary threw his weight behind Prime Minister May, amid speculation that his recent interventions on Brexit were intended to undermine her leadership and boost his own leadership credentials.
Leadsom defended Johnson’s decision to pen articles for The Sun and Telegraph newspapers, saying he was “right to do so” because as foreign secretary “he must share his opinions” on what Britain’s exit from the EU should entail.
“Obviously, Boris is a big personality and is one of any number of MPs elected to Parliament to do the best they can for their country, and what that means is you do want to put out your views, and he was right to do so,” she said.
“He is the foreign secretary and he must share his opinions.
“But he’s clear that he’s behind what Theresa May is doing. He is entitled to have an opinion and he’s also supporting the PM. He’s not in contradiction with the PM’s approach in any way at all. He is supporting her and reinforcing her, but also setting out his own best thoughts on it, which he should do as foreign secretary.”
Leadsom’s interview with BI took place prior to Johnson telling a conference fringe event that war-torn Libya would have a bright future once they “clear the dead bodies away.” Tory MPs Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen have called on May to sack Johnson for his remarks, while shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, branded him a “disgrace” and said he “does not belong” in the office of foreign secretary.
Leadsom: The EU must negotiate “in good faith”
On the subject of Brexit, Leadsom insisted that Britain will cease to be a member of the European single market in March 2019. “Leaving the EU means leaving the four freedoms. You cannot leave the EU and be a member of the single market. I have always said that there is no such thing as a hard or soft Brexit,” the former minister said.
However, Leadsom later hinted that certain aspects of EU membership could be replicated during a transition period, or “implementation period” as it’s usually described by Cabinet ministers.
Asked whether the free movement of people could continue in some form during transition, Leadsom said: “In seeking an implementation period and the chance to get those systems in place in a seamless way, it may well be that there are certain areas that are slightly grey, but that’s not to say that we won’t have left the EU.
“It’s a minor consideration as to what the implications are of implementation. The fact is we’ll be out of the EU and we will only be taking as long as it takes to complete that smooth passage out.
“The fact is we’ll be out of the EU and we will only be taking as long as it takes to complete that smooth passage out.”
Leadsom also urged EU negotiators to “take on board the very genuine and generous offers” made by May in her Florence speech and show more flexibility in talks with their British counterparts.
“What’s clear is that the EU must be negotiating in good faith. We absolutely need to be working together to get a solution that’s great for the EU and great for the UK. It’s really important that EU negotiators take on board the very genuine and generous offers from the PM in her Florence speech,” Leadsom said.
“The papers we’ve set out on the Northern Irish border, on customs and on trade are very clear, and the EU must take them on board and engage with them. We are in a good place and I’d like to see the EU stepping up to it and taking seriously the suggestions we are making.
“I would like to see some real effort to make progress at this point. It would be very good for European businesses and for UK businesses to see serious progress being made. We should be making progress now. It will be perfectly possible to do that.”
“I think in the UK there is an enormous amount of work going and preparations are really quite advanced. We are in a strong position.
“In my view, we have been doing things in the same way as the EU for the past 40 years, and to continue trading as we have done with zero tariffs and low-to-zero non-tariff barriers, as things stand, will be perfectly possible.”
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