Former Tory leader Lord Howard backs Andrea Leadsom for Prime Minister
Former Conservative leader Lord Howard today leant his support to Andrea Leadsom in her bid to become prime minister, insisting her lack of high-level experience is not "hugely important".
Ms Leadsom came second in the first ballot of Tory MPs and will find out later today whether she will make the final two candidates voted on by party members.
She faces a battle with Michael Gove, who finished 18 votes behind her in the first round of voting but hopes to pip the Energy minister to second place behind frontrunner Theresa May.
Lord Howard, who led the party from 2003 to 2005, said he would have had a "much more difficult decision" choosing between Mr Gove and Ms Leadsom, had it not been for the way the Justice Secretary abandoned Boris Johnson's campaign at the last minute.
Mr Gove has also been embarrassed by a text message sent by his campaign manager Nick Boles to fellow Tory MPs urging them not to back Ms Leadsom.
"What if Theresa stumbles? Are we really confident the membership won't vote for a fresh face who shares their attitude about much of modern life, like they did with IDS?," the message from Mr Boles reads.
Lord Howard told the Today programme: "I have a high regard for Michael, I think he was an extremely good education secretary but I’m afraid the events of last week made it very difficult, I’m afraid, to support him and they appear to have been compounded, I’m afraid, by the text [from Mr Boles]."
He argued that the next prime minister should be someone who campaigned to leave the EU, meaning Ms Leadsom was preferable to Ms May.
"I’ve come to the conclusion that Andrea Leadsom is best placed to lead our country into this exciting new future that we have in front of us outside the European Union. She has the vision to see the opportunities which are there in front of us," he said.
"I think it would be quite difficult to have a prime minister who voted with a minority rather than a majority of the British people in that momentous vote two weeks ago."
He also hit out at Home Secretary Ms May for her refusal to guarantee the right of EU nationals currently in the UK to remain here after Brexit.
"I must also mention something which has caused me great distress in recent days.
"She [Ms Leadsom] has made a clear commitment to the millions of EU citizens in our country here lawfully, the vast majority of them decent, hardworking people.
"She has made a clear commitment that they can stay here and I am dismayed by the fact that the Home Office regard these millions of people as bargaining chips in our negotiations with the European Union."
The Tory grandee insisted he was not worried about the Energy Minister's relative lack of high level government experience, saying:
"No, I don’t think the experience is hugely important. David Cameron had never been in government before he became Prime Minister."