Barely known among ordinary Britons, pro-Brexit junior minister Andrea Leadsom is one of three candidates vying to be Britain's next prime minister
London (AFP) - Andrea Leadsom, a junior minister with a financial industry background who compares herself to Margaret Thatcher, is one of the two candidates left in the race for Britain's premiership on Thursday.
While Leadsom is barely known among ordinary Britons, her pro-Brexit and City of London credentials have won respect among some Conservative MPs and party members who will choose the next prime minister.
She has also been attacked by former colleagues for allegedly exaggerating her banking and investment fund background and for her stance on gay marriage, which she has said she "does not like".
She is up against interior minister Theresa May, who campaigned for Britain to stay in the European Union but now says she will lead the country out.
She was only elected to parliament in 2010 and has only held positions as economic secretary to the Treasury and now energy minister -- both junior positions that mean she has never been in the cabinet.
The minister emerged as the leading anti-EU candidate after former London mayor Boris Johnson pulled out and his former ally Michael Gove lost support after being accused of knifing Johnson.
Johnson is now supporting Leadsom, along with many leading Conservative eurosceptics and even some senior figures in the anti-EU UK Independence Party, usually viewed with deep suspicion by Tories.
"The decision we took on June 23 was a great moment in history," she said at her campaign launch in July. "We will have our freedom back."
She or May would be the first female prime minister and Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher, who stepped down in 1990.
- 'More control' for Britain -
The 53-year-old is keen to encourage the Thatcher comparison.
"As a person, she was always kind and courteous and as a leader she was steely and determined," she told the Sunday Telegraph.
"I think that's an ideal combination -- and I do like to think that's where I am."
A married mother-of-three and committed Christian, Leadsom previously worked at Barclays bank and Invesco Perpetual investment fund before becoming an MP.
She has long campaigned for reform of the EU, setting up a pressure group in 2011 whose mission statement was to explore options for giving British citizens "more control over their own lives".
As leader, she says she would start the formal process for leaving the European Union on taking office in September and that Britain could be out as early as next year.
She wants to opt out of freedom of movement but says that the rights of EU nationals currently living in Britain should be protected.
Leadsom has not proved universally popular during her government career -- some Treasury officials have reportedly said she was a "disaster" during her time as City minister.
The Times has also reported that a company run by her husband and owned by her brother-in-law had made use of a type of trust which can help avoid tax and is controversial, though not illegal.
She insists she has never evaded tax and has always declared all of her income.