Esther McVey became the third Tory MP to declare their candidacy for the party leadership before Theresa May has announced her resignation, as the leading Remain voice in the cabinet warned against a hard Brexit supporter entering Number 10.
Ms McVey, a former work and pensions secretary, quit the Cabinet in November in protest at Mrs May’s Brexit deal.
She joins Andrea Leadsom and Rory Stewart in declaring her desire to replace Mrs May, despite Downing Street saying the Prime Minister would remain in place until a Brexit withdrawal agreement is approved by MPs.
Several more candidates are running undeclared leadership campaigns, and a crowded field is expected to include Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab.
Ms McVey told TalkRadio: “I have always said if I got enough support from my colleagues, yes I would. Now people have come forward and I have got that support, so I will be going forward.”
The Tatton MP said the Conservative Party needed a leader who “believes in Brexit” and had “belief in the opportunities” it could bring.
Shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird attacked Ms McVey’s candidacy, saying she had “defended the bedroom tax, described families using food banks as positive and ploughed ahead with the callous universal credit policy after being forced to admit that people would be worse off as a result”.
It came as the current Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, warned that a Tory leader who backs a no-deal Brexit “would not be able to command a majority”. In a sign of the influence she hopes to weild in a leadership race, Ms Rudd said the “best prime minister we could have” would “deliver on a softer Brexit that could command a majority if we can work with Labour”.