Ex-London Mayor Johnson backs Leadsom to be next British prime minister

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LONDON (Reuters) - Former London Mayor and leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson on Monday gave his backing to junior minister Andrea Leadsom to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and British prime minister.

Leadsom, 53, second-favorite in the race to succeed David Cameron as PM, was also prominent figure in the campaign to leave the European Union, which Britons backed in a June 23 referendum.

“Andrea Leadsom offers the zap, the drive, and the determination essential for the next leader of this country,” Johnson said in a statement.

“She has specialized in the EU question...and will be therefore well-placed to help forge a great post-Brexit future for Britain and Europe,” he said.

Johnson had been considered one of the favorites to replace Cameron but ruled out a bid last week after Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who had been widely expected to back him for the top job, unexpectedly announced his own candidacy.

Gove said he had changed his mind about his Brexit campaign colleague, as he did not think Johnson could provide leadership.

Theresa May, a Conservative party stalwart who has run the law-and-order portfolio in the cabinet for six years, is the favorite to succeed Cameron despite having campaigned to remain in the EU.

The other leadership contenders are work and pensions minister Stephen Crabb and former defense minister Liam Fox.

A first round of voting by Conservative lawmakers will be held on Tuesday.

Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Larry King and Toby Chopra