Ex-Rival Leadsom Backs Boris Johnson in U.K. Leadership Race

British Conservative Party leadership contender Boris Johnson leaving his south London home on Tuesday, as his candidacy got a boost from former rival, Andrea Leadsom. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

A former candidate to lead Britain’s Conservative Party threw her support behind front-runner Boris Johnson on Tuesday, bolstering his lead as lawmakers prepared to eliminate at least one contender from the race to become prime minister.

Andrea Leadsom, an ardent backer of Brexit, told LBC Radio that she’s backing Johnson, because “I think he will be a very good leader for our country.”

Leadsom was one of three lawmakers voted out of the race to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May last week.

Johnson, a flamboyant former foreign secretary, has a commanding lead after that first round, in which he gained backing from 114 of the 313 Tory legislators. Five rivals remain, battling to secure the second-place slot that will send them into a runoff decided by all party members.

Lawmakers will vote again Tuesday, with the lowest-placed contender dropping out of the contest, along with any who fail to get at least 33 votes.

Further rounds are set for Wednesday and Thursday if needed. The final two contenders will go to a postal ballot of about 160,000 Conservative Party members nationwide.

The winner, due to be announced in late July, will become party leader and prime minister.

May stepped down as party leader earlier this month after failing to secure Parliament’s approval for her Brexit deal.

All six contenders to replace her vow they will succeed where May failed and lead Britain out of the European Union, though they differ about how they plan to break the country’s Brexit deadlock.

Johnson — a leading figure in the 2016 campaign to leave the EU — says that the U.K. must leave the bloc on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal to smooth the way.

The EU says it won’t reopen the Brexit agreement it struck with May’s government, which has been rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament. Many economists and businesses say a no-deal exit would cause economic turmoil by ripping up the rules that govern trade between Britain and the EU.

Johnson’s rivals are divided on how willing they are to contemplate a no-deal Brexit. Ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Sajid Javid both say no-deal would be preferable to further delay. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warns it would cause “potentially severe economic disruption” and Environment Secretary Michael Gove says he would be willing to postpone Brexit further in order to secure a deal.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, who started the campaign as a rank outsider but has electrified the race, rejects the idea of leaving without a deal and has accused his rivals of posturing.

After Tuesday’s vote by lawmakers, the remaining contenders will take part in a live broadcast debate.

Johnson, who has been accused of trying to dodge scrutiny, declined to participate in an earlier debate on Sunday with his five rivals, and also refused to take part in a question-and-answer session with political journalists on Monday.

Johnson’s team is keeping him on a tight leash, wary of gaffes that could derail his campaign. An instantly recognizable figure, Johnson is admired by many Conservatives for his ability to energize voters. But others mistrust him for his long record of misleading and false statements, verbal blunders and erratic performance in high office.