Tory leadership race intensifies as prominent Leave campaigners move to block Theresa May

Tory leadership contender Andrea Leadsom. Picture: PA

The race for the Tory leadership intensified as two prominent Leave campaigners moved to block home secretary Theresa May’s path to Downing St.

Energy minister Andrea Leadsom insisted she would give Britain its freedom back, as former defence secretary Liam Fox declared leaving the single market was a price worth paying for immigration control.

Ms Leadsom urged those who backed Remain not to be “afraid” of the future as the minister insisted she was best placed to lead tough EU exit negotiations because she — unlike Remain campaigner Ms May — believed Britain was best off free from the grip of Brussels.

The former businesswoman also said she knew how to overcome prejudice in a male dominated world.

Theresa May
Theresa May

In a swipe at frontrunner Mrs May, Ms Leadsom insisted she would not use EU citizens living in the UK as “bargaining chips” as she promised their rights should be preserved.

The minister also dismissed calls that she and fellow candidates should step aside to allow a speedy installation of Mrs May as prime minister, stating: “I don’t think we should have any sort of coronation.”

Ms Leadsom said her business career gave her key skills for the role of a prime minister dealing with Brexit talks. “I know how to strike a deal in a tough negotiation ,” she said.

The minister would not be drawn on when she would invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which sets withdrawal from the EU in train, but insisted immigration would be a main focus of talks as she said there was no need for an early general election.

In a rival bid for the anti-EU vote in the Tory leadership contest, Mr Fox said immigration was key to the Brexit deal.

“I do not believe that you need to be in the single market to sell into the single market,” he said.

“And if the price of the relationship with the single market is free movement of people, it’s a price I’m not willing to pay.”

Mr Fox said he would pull the UK out of the European Union on January 1 2019 after triggering Article 50 to begin the process this year, and ruled out both a snap general election and a second referendum.

The interventions came after foreign secretary Philip Hammond hailed Ms May’s “determination in standing up to vested interests” as he threw his support behind her campaign and warned the status of EU citizens in the UK would be a matter for negotiation.

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