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Andrea Leadsom admits pulling out of 2016 Tory leadership race was a 'mistake'

Andrea Leadsom said pulling out of the 2016 Tory leadership race was a 'mistake'. Credit: ITV/Peston

Conservative leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom has admitted that pulling out of the 2016 race was a mistake, and that this time around it is "vital that there is plenty of scrutiny" of the candidates.

Appearing on ITV's Peston, the leader of the Commons said that in this year's race for the Tory crown "it is vital" that the leadership candidates are voted on by both MPs, and the wider Conservative Party.

When Ms Leadsom withdrew from the race against Theresa May, she left the field open for opponent, meaning the current prime minister was not voted on by the wider Conservative party.

Questioned why she withdrew from the race if she believed it so imperative that candidates are voted on, Ms Leadsom said she believed it was the right decision at the time.

She continued that she did not withdraw from the race against Mrs May - in which she was the second-placed candidate - following an interview in which she came under fire and faced an ensuing backlash for claiming that she would make a better prime minister than Mrs May because she was a mother.

Speaking to ITV News' Political Editor, the South Northamptonshire MP said that she withdrew because the Government at the time was warning of the negative impact of the then-recent leave vote in the EU referendum, and rather than put the Party through nine weeks of leadership campaigning, she wanted the Government to get on with business.

Ms Leadsom said a nine-week campaign would not have been "in the public interest" and that she acted in what she believed was "best in the national interest, not my personal interest".

However, she said she had learnt from her mistakes and this time round she was the candidate who "would not withdraw in a million years, precisely because I withdrew last time.

"This time we have to get it right, that is absolutely vital.

"What is clear to me, in hindsight, is that it would have been good for the candidates to have been tested."

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So far in her 2019 campaign, Ms Leadsom has been very vocal on the fact that for her, October 31 is a "hard red line" and that the UK will leave the EU on that date with or without a deal.

Unlike Ms Leadsom, Mark Harper has been clear in his campaign to become the next prime minister that he would rather extend the UK's departure date from the EU than leave with no-deal on October 31.

The 49-year-old said there was "no credible way" a new leader of the Tory Party could get a different deal and still leave the EU by the end of October, as such, he said he would be prepared to extend the deadline.

The former Tory chief whip said he would rather make a promise to say that the UK would leave the EU later than Halloween, "and stick to it", rather than promise to leave at the end of October "and then break it".

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Should the UK leave the EU with no-deal, Mr Harper said this would likely result in a vote of no confidence in the Government, and then a general election.

Should frontrunner Boris Johnson become Tory leader and the UK leave the EU with no-deal on October 31, as Mr Johnson has pledged will happen if no deal can be agreed upon, the Forest of Dean MP said there was a "real risk" the former mayor of London "could become the shortest lived prime minister in history".

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While a general election would further divide the country, MP Priti Patel suggested that Mr Johnson would instead unite the country and the Conservative Party.

The former international development secretary said Mr Johnson would be a "strong leader" who offers the "excitement and enthusiasm" and "hope" that other candidates in the race do not offer.

When the Witham MP was pressed on whether Mr Johnson was actually more a divisive candidate than a uniting one, Ms Patel insisted that he was a candidate who would "tell it how it is".

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Responding to questioning whether Mr Johnson was the UK's version of US President Donald Trump, who has endorsed the Uxbridge MP as a "great guy" who would be an "excellent" leader, Ms Patel responded: "No, not at all.

"I think what you'll get with Boris... is what the British public actually want, they want politicians to speak how it is, to tell it how you find.

"To be honest and not use technical jargon, and language, and endless soundbites... but actually I think calling a spade a spade and being clear about what is going on in our country why Brexit negotiations have been pretty bad, the public respects individuals who speak their mind and tell it how it is.

"People are sick of politicians sitting on the fence."