As a new poll showed May was the top choice to succeed David Cameron, with the backing of 60 per cent of Conservative supporters, the two remained defiant in the face of calls to stand aside and let the home secretary take over the top job without a ballot of Conservative Party members.
With the two candidates who win the most support among the public being put forward to a vote of the membership and the new leader expected to be in place by 9 September, the rivals also clashed over how quickly the UK should leave the EU in the Sunday papers.
May and Gove have both said they would hold back, potentially waiting until next year to trigger Article 50, while Leadsom hinted she would prefer a speedy exit.
Writing in The Telegraph today, Gove said: “It is clear to me that the prime minister who takes charge of that process must be someone who embraced this vision of independence during the referendum.”
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In an interview, Leadsom added: “The prime minister resigned because he didn’t back leaving, he doesn’t believe in it, so it would be odd to just appoint somebody who also didn’t believe in it. I just don’t think that would be right.”
Both Leadsom and Gove played key roles in the Leave campaign, with the justice secretary the official head of the official Vote Leave group, and Leadsom, a former City minister, rising to prominence in the televised debates.
Conversely, Theresa May kept a low key profile in the run-up to the vote, though she officially backed the Remain side.
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Following Boris Johnson’s decision not to stand on Thursday, May was quickly installed as the favourite, and reports over the weekend suggested her aides are lobbying the other candidates to withdraw from the race to avoid an acrimonious and drawn-out debate.
Neither Leadsom nor Gove were willing to countenance that route, however. Leadsom addressed the issue directly in her interview, stating: “I think absolutely the membership deserve a say. They need to get behind whoever it is. I don’t think we can simply have a coronation.”