Britain’s minister for defence, Michael Fallon, has backed Theresa May in her bid to become leader of the Tory party and the next prime minister.
He refused to criticise the home secretary’s opponent Andrea Leadsom when asked if there would be security risks if the relatively inexperienced junior minister won the leadership. But he highlighted May’s track record, saying she was committed to keeping the UK safe.
Mr Fallon told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think at this point she (Ms May) has the experience, the track record, to take this country forward now, to stabilise the economy.”
Asked if there would be risks if Leadsom became prime minister, Fallon replied: “I’m not going to knock her opponent, but I’m committed to Theresa May, I’ve worked with her on security day in, day out.
“She has the experience, she is already a member of the National Security Council, she works to protect homeland security, just as I deal with threats abroad like Daesh (Islamic State) and our commitments to Nato and we work together.
“And I’ve seen her deal with crisis, I’ve seen her chair the Cobra emergency committee, I’ve seen her handle these things, and she’s absolutely committed above all to keeping this country safe.”
The UK is on course to have its second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher, as May and Leadsom begin canvassing Tory members around the country.
Around 150,000 Conservative members will decide the identity of the party’s new leader, who will also take the keys to Number 10, with the result to be announced on September 9.
But a campaign by former party chairman Grant Shapps to speed up the contest so a new PM is chosen by the end of this month now has the backing of 44 Tories and one Labour MP.
A quicker contest could favour the higher-profile May, but Shapps, who supports her, has insisted he is acting in the national interest, and stressed the campaign has the backing of supporters of both candidates.
May’s campaign received a boost with an endorsement from The Sun newspaper, which proclaimed on its front page that the “new Mrs T must be Tezza not Leadsom”.
Following the bruising EU referendum campaign and the resignation of David Cameron, the home secretary has insisted she can unite the party.
Leadsom was a prominent Brexit-backer and hopes that her support for leaving the EU will win her votes from eurosceptics in the Tory grassroots.
Boris Johnson ramped up the pressure on May to guarantee that EU nationals living in Britain can remain here after Brexit.
Leadsom has moved to guarantee their status but Ms May has said it should be included in Brexit negotiations.
Johnson, who backs Leadsom, told BBC News: “There’s one very important thing I think that both candidates have got to make clear — EU nationals living here now have absolutely no problem and they are welcome, they are a vital part of our economy.
"Andrea has made that clear I think but I think Theresa should make that clear as well.”
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