Shropshire Star

Kemi Badenoch leaves door open to Tory leadership bid

The Business Secretary is seen as a frontrunner to replace Rishi Sunak should he lead the Conservatives to defeat on July 4.

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Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch

Kemi Badenoch has hinted at having Tory leadership ambitions, joining other hopefuls in jostling for position ahead of the General Election.

The Business Secretary, who is seen as a frontrunner to replace Rishi Sunak should he lead the Conservatives to defeat on July 4, said that “we will talk about leadership things after an election” as she did not rule out a tilt at the top job.

She insisted that “we need to focus on this election” at a business event that many in Westminster will have been watching for signs of her intention to run in a future Tory contest as the party braces for an expected defeat.

It came after a trio of possible Tory leadership contenders made interventions over the weekend, with former immigration minister Robert Jenrick saying the party was the “natural home for Reform voters”, Home Secretary James Cleverly leaving open the door to a bid, and former home secretary Dame Priti Patel pressing the case for lower taxes in a rallying cry to voters.

Ms Badenoch was asked about her own intentions at a debate hosted by the Institute of Directors and Bloomberg on Monday.

She insisted there was “no better job” than Business and Trade Secretary, which “is a lot easier and a lot less pressured than being prime minister”.

The senior Conservative, who ran for the party leadership in 2022, continued: “The fact of the matter is, I stood and I lost. And what terrifies me now is not not becoming leader, it is seeing Labour come in…

“This is one of the things that I’ve found most difficult doing this job, that people tend not to know what it is, because I’m always asked the leadership question. We’re so interested in the personalities, in the gossip and so on…

Rishi Sunak head shot
Tory leadership hopefuls are already jostling to replace Rishi Sunak as his party braces for an expected election defeat (Jane Barlow/PA)

“We need to focus on this election. The choice is going to be between us or between them. Be afraid if it is them, is all I would say. And we will talk about leadership things after an election, but not before.”

Labour shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds, appearing alongside her at the event, accused the Tories of already being focused on the race for Mr Sunak’s job should it become available.

In a discussion about a role for the European Court of Justice in a future deal with the European Union, Ms Badenoch accused Labour of trying to take the country “back into the EU without saying so”.

Mr Reynolds said: “This is a conversation on one side, on the Conservative side, which is all about, to be frank, the next leadership election in the Conservative Party and the red lines within there.”

Labour’s poll lead over the Tories remains around 20 points.

Some pollsters have suggested Labour could be on course for a thumping majority that puts at risk Conservative seats previously considered safe.

Ms Badenoch, who won a 27,594 majority in Saffron Walden in 2019, is fighting for re-election in the redrawn North West Essex seat.

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