London: Andrea Leadsom’s resignation has, her friends believe, pushed her to the front of the cabinet Brexiters jockeying for position to replace Theresa May.
Her decision to resign as leader of the House of Commons may have stolen a march on other members of the so-called “pizza club”, such as the defence secretary Penny Mordaunt and the home secretary Sajid Javid.
Leadsom’s supporters hope she will challenge Brexiter rivals Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab to win over enough Leave-supporting Conservative MPs to be in the final two candidates put before the party’s membership.
One of her closest confidantes, the MP Tim Loughton, told the Guardian that her resignation is a big loss to the government. “She has campaigned for Brexit and wants Brexit, but this fourth incarnation of the PM’s deal, talking about second referendums and a customs union, is not it. And so her position in the cabinet became untenable.
“I am not surprised because she is a woman of principle and puts Brexit and the government ahead of her career. But frankly she is not the one who should be resigning today.”
Asked if she would now stand to be prime minister, Loughton said: “She has already said she is going to throw her hat into the ring and so why not? If she had gone all the way she might have won last time but it was not the right time.”
Leadsom, 56, a former banker, has honed her leave credentials since being elected to parliament in 2010.
She has been a vocal critic of the EU’s excesses, was a key advocate for the Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum and has described the UK’s continued membership of the EU as “disgusting”.
But in 2013, she told the Hansard Society that leaving the EU “would be a disaster for our economy and it would lead to a decade of economic and political uncertainty”.
She was appointed economic secretary to the treasury in 2014, and was later moved to the department of energy and climate change when Amber Rudd was secretary of state.
She may find it difficult to shake off her failed campaign for the Tory leadership following David Cameron’s resignation.
After coming second with 66 votes in the first round of voting to May, her team led a widely ridiculed “Rally for Leadsom” through the streets of Westminster.
The mother-of-three eventually dropped out of the race after she made comments about her children that were widely interpreted to be an attack on Theresa and Philip May’s inability to have children.
In an interview with the Times, she said: “I feel that being a mum means you have a real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.”
She later apologised to May, saying the article had said “completely the opposite of what I said and believe”. But her withdrawal allowed May to become leader unchallenged.
In 2016, Leadsom had been seen as a strong candidate to become chancellor and was disappointed to be given the job as leader of the House.
She has won over many MPs in the role by campaigning for better facilities and pushing for new rules to stop bullying and harassment in parliament.
Labour MP Jess Phillips said on Wednesday night she liked Leadsom and commended her work in helping to introduce proxy voting for MPs.