After graduating with a degree in political science at the University of Warwick, she worked in junior roles, including as a personal assistant, at Barclays and Invesco Perpetual. Leadsom was first elected to the House of Commons in the constituency South Northamptonshire in the 2010 general election.
Leadsom was a prominent member of the Leave campaign during the 2016 EU referendum and gained standing in referendum TV debates. On David Cameron's resignation, Leadsom became one of five candidates in the election for the leadership of the governing Conservative Party, and thereby for the prime ministership. In the second round of voting by MPs she came second to Theresa May, and the two women would have proceeded to a ballot of party members, but Leadsom withdrew from the contest before this could happen, stating that she did not have enough support to win, and endorsed May, who became party leader and Prime Minister. Leadsom was criticised for suggesting that May was less suited than herself to be Prime Minister because May was childless; there were also questions raised in the media about the accuracy of Leadsom's CV. May appointed Leadsom as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in her first cabinet.
Following the snap election of 2017, Leadsom was appointed Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons.
Leadsom was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, the daughter of Richard and Judy Salmon (née Kitchin). She attended Tonbridge Girls' Grammar School, then read Political Science at the University of Warwick, graduating with a 2:2 in 1987.
After graduation, Leadsom began a career in the financial sector as a debt trader for Barclays de Zoete Wedd, then the investment bank division of Barclays Bank. For Barclays itself, she served as Deputy Director in the Financial Institutions team from 1993; this involved the maintenance of contractual relationships with other banks. In this role, she said she was given a "ringside seat" in the collapse of Barings Bank. Leadsom clashed with the then-head of Barclay Investments, Bob Diamond, who tried to persuade her to return to full-time work soon after a pregnancy, and she left the company in 1997. Later she would claim to have been a Director at Barclays, though in July 2016 she submitted a revised CV which showed that she had only served as Deputy Director.
From 1997 to 1999, Leadsom served as director of her brother-in-law's hedge fund, De Putron Fund Management (DPFM). Peter de Putron is her sister's husband. According to records at Companies House, Leadsom was promoted to board director for Marketing in 1998 under her maiden name.
Leadsom was Head of Corporate Governance and a Senior Investment Officer at Invesco Perpetual from 1999 to 2009. According to a former colleague who admitted to not knowing her personally, "the problem about these claims is that they risk misleading people into believing that she has finance management skills and experience which qualify her for senior posts in government"; her actual job was to work (sometimes part-time) on “special projects”, mostly for the Chief Investment Officer, which included negotiating pay terms for senior fund managers – towards the end of her time, she advised on a number of governance issues, but she had no-one reporting to her in either role. Approval for individuals to manage funds or deal with clients is needed from the financial services regulator (then the Financial Services Authority), which Leadsom held from December 2002 to February 2003.
Leadsom herself has never made claims to have personally managed finance, and Bob Yerbury, former Chief Investment Officer at Invesco Perpetual and Leadsom's former manager, dismissed the controversy about how she described her time there and described her as "totally honest".
Leadsom was a Councillor on South Oxfordshire District Council between 2003 and 2007.
She contested Knowsley South constituency in the 2005 general election and was placed on the Conservative A-List.
Leadsom was selected to stand as the parliamentary candidate in the newly created South Northamptonshire constituency in June 2006. In 2009, ConservativeHome said that she was "defending a notional Conservative majority of 11,356."
At the 2010 general election in May, Leadsom was elected with a majority of more than 20,000. On entering the House of Commons she was appointed a member of the Treasury Select Committee. She made her maiden speech on 22 June 2010 during the budget debate, when she spoke of restoring health to the financial sector, drawing from personal experience in financial regulation, particularly with Barings Bank.
Leadsom campaigned for EU reform. In September 2011, she co-founded the Fresh Start Project with Conservative MPs Chris Heaton-Harris and George Eustice to "research and build support for realistic and far-reaching proposals for reforming the EU". On 25 October 2011, Leadsom was one of 81 Conservative MPs to defy the party whip and vote in favour of holding a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union. This led to a sharp ruction with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, at the time.
In July 2012, during the Libor scandal, she was widely reported on for her contribution to the Treasury Select Committee's questioning of Bob Diamond. At a subsequent hearing she questioned Paul Tucker, who stated that the previous government had not conspired with the Bank to fix rates. In a BBC interview, Leadsom stated that the suggestion "has now been completely squashed by Paul Tucker", and that on that specific point, George Osborne might want to apologise to Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls for "suggesting he was implicated in rate fixing", although she also pointed out that Balls "still [had] a huge amount to answer for in relation to the scandal and his time in office". Mike Smithson suggested this could be a reason for Osborne to overlook her for a promotion in the 2012 cabinet reshuffle, despite the fact that "in terms of talent she must be right at the top of the list of 2010 newbies who should be promoted." In 2012, Leadsom was ranked 91 on Iain Dale's list of top 100 most influential figures from the right.
Leadsom was one of five MPs to abstain from the Government's Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill by voting in both lobbies. Leadsom had earlier said she found the wording of the legislation "unacceptable", and that voting no reflected the views of "so many" of her constituents, who felt that the bill was "deeply wrong", but ultimately chose to abstain, saying:
"I find myself genuinely torn...I cannot vote against a measure that would mean so much to the minority of homosexual couples for whom marriage is the ultimate recognition for their genuine feelings for each other. Yet nor can I vote for a measure that risks centuries of faith-based belief in marriage."
During her Conservative Party leadership campaign in 2016, she stated she would have preferred a situation in which there were two types of services: "civil partnerships to be available to heterosexual and gay couples and for marriage to have remained a Christian service for men and women who wanted to commit in the eyes of God."
In October 2013, Leadsom was appointed by David Cameron to the Number 10 Policy Unit, with responsibility for part of the public services brief.
On 9 April 2014 Leadsom was appointed Economic Secretary to the Treasury following Maria Miller's resignation from the Cabinet. She was also given the additional responsibility of City Minister, a post which had previously been held concurrently with the position of Financial Secretary to the Treasury. According to the Financial Times, her period as City Minister was seen by departmental officials as "a disaster", "the worst minister we ever had. … She found it difficult to understand issues or take decisions. She was monomaniacal, seeing the EU as the source of every problem. She alienated officials by continually complaining about poor drafting."
In about 1997, she formed the company Bandal with her husband, and bought property in Oxford and Surrey. The company was financed by loans from the Jersey arm of Kleinwort Benson, a private bank. It was learned in 2014 that Leadsom had transferred her shares to a trust fund for her children. A spokesman for Leadsom said: "This is a normal corporate situation and all tax that is due is being paid. None of the loans for the properties are based offshore".
There was further criticism in 2014 when The Independent revealed that she had received a series of donations totalling £70,000 from a firm based in London but owned by her Guernsey-based brother-in-law, Peter de Putron, via a holding company in the British Virgin Islands tax haven. Leadsom's husband Ben is a director of the firm which made the donations, which were used to pay the salaries of staff in Leadsom's Westminster office after her election as MP; the firm has also made donations of £816,000 to the Conservative party. Because the firm making the donations, Gloucester Research (later becoming GR Software and Research), was based in London, the donations conformed to the rule banning political donations from abroad. The Labour MP Tom Watson said: “These very large donations might be within the rules, but it certainly isn’t right that a Treasury minister has been taking money in this way. Most reasonable people will see this as completely unreasonable”.
Leadsom was re-elected as MP for South Northamptonshire on 7 May 2015 with 36,607 votes, compared to her nearest rival Lucy Mills (Labour), with 10,191 votes. On 11 May 2015, Leadsom, who had previously opposed wind farms and European renewable energy targets, was moved from Economic Secretary to the Treasury, to be appointed Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, reporting to Amber Rudd who was promoted to Secretary of State at the same department.
Leadsom said in 2016 that she was "absolutely pro-choice" on abortion, but was "keeping an eye on scientific progress which makes foetuses viable earlier". She is concerned about child development, and founded a charity which helps vulnerable mothers to bond with their babies. In the 2016 US Presidential election she supported Democratic Party candidate Clinton against Republican Trump. When seeking the Prime Ministership she said she "absolutely would rule out giving Nigel Farage [of UKIP] a job".
She said that if she became Prime Minister she would go about repealing the ban on fox hunting, suggesting that this would improve animal welfare. This is despite record-high opposition, even among Conservative voters.
Before becoming Minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Leadsom had opposed wind farms and EU renewable energy targets. After her appointment she said "When I first came to this job one of my two questions was: 'Is climate change real?' and the other was 'Is hydraulic fracturing ["fracking"] safe?' And on both of those questions I am now completely persuaded."
In April 2013 at the Hansard Society's annual parliamentary affairs lecture, Leadsom warned against the UK leaving the European Union, stating that "I think it would be a disaster for our economy and it would lead to a decade of economic and political uncertainty at a time when the tectonic plates of global success are moving."
However, in 2016 Leadsom campaigned for leave in the UK referendum on European Union membership. The Mail on Sunday reproduced her earlier comments in its issue of 3 July 2016. After her comments were read out by Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning BBC programme, she explained to Marr how she reached her more recent position: "It has been a journey. When I came into Parliament, like most people in the country I'd grown up as part of the EU and it's absolutely part of our DNA and I came into Parliament, set up something called the Fresh Start Project, which took hundreds and hundreds of hours of evidence about how the EU impacts on the UK – on everything from immigration to fisheries and so on... During that process I travelled all across Europe with lots of parliamentary colleagues – up to 100 Conservative colleagues supporting this work – to try and get a really decent, fundamental reform of the EU." A spokesman for Leadsom said that the recording was "taken completely out of context" because she had opened the lecture by saying that the EU needed major reforms in order for it to be "sustainable". She added that the democratic consent for the EU in Britain was "wafer thin".
Leadsom took a prominent role in the campaign to leave the EU in the June 2016 referendum campaign. She argued that the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, had destabilised financial markets and jeopardised the Bank's independence by warning of short-term negative effects on the economy caused by leaving the EU.
In a televised debate on the EU referendum, Leadsom appeared on the "Leave" panel, along with Gisela Stuart and Boris Johnson. She disputed claims that the UK should pursue single market membership, saying that 80% of the world's economy, and most EU free-trade deals, are not within the single market. She also said that the UK economy is too large to need the single market, but is hindered by the slowness of EU trade procedures.
Immediately following the referendum vote on 23 June 2016 for Britain to leave the EU, David Cameron announced that he would resign as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister by October. Leadsom was one of the early favourites to become the next Prime Minister, and was also linked with a possible role as Chancellor. On 30 June 2016 she announced her candidacy to become leader of the Conservative Party. Leadsom said she would trigger Article 50 immediately upon becoming Prime Minister, and conduct swift negotiations with the European Union.
In the first round of voting on 5 July 2016, Theresa May received support from 165 MPs, while Leadsom came second with 66 votes. In the second ballot, Leadsom came second with 84 votes. Michael Gove was eliminated with 46 votes. Theresa May received 199 votes. On 11 July 2016, Leadsom announced she would be withdrawing her leadership bid, leaving Theresa May as the successor to David Cameron.
In a BBC interview on 7 July 2016, Leadsom spoke of her disappointment about plotting in the leadership race, including alleged attempts by opponents to block her from the final ballot. She dismissed "ridiculous" accusations that her biography was misleading, saying that her "incredibly varied" CV is "all absolutely true".
Leadsom promised to "banish the pessimists" and to provide prosperity for the UK if elected, and stated that she was committed to fair trade. She also stated that she would reintroduce fox hunting if elected, and expressed doubts over the introduction of gay marriage, both causes popular with Conservative right wingers. She also criticised her rival Theresa May's plan to use the status of EU nationals living in the UK as "bargaining chips", promising that if she was elected they could stay
On 6 July 2016 The Times and other news media published articles which said that Leadsom had overstated her private sector experience and responsibilities. They said that despite references her supporters had made to her managing "billions of pounds in funds" and her impressive-sounding job titles, she had held financial services regulator approval for only a brief three month period in 10 years at Invesco Perpetual, and quoted former colleagues who said that she had exaggerated her level of involvement and her management responsibilities. Her CV claim to be "the youngest ever senior executive" at Barclays was said to be "categorically not true" Her published CV had claimed that she was "head-hunted from Barclays to establish a new funds management business" as "managing director of DPFM Ltd". But DPFM was owned by her brother-in-law and Companies House records show that she was marketing director not managing director. She was also named as chief investment officer of Invesco Perpetual in a "Who's Who" entry; but the actual chief investment officer at the time, Bob Yerbury, said that she reported to him and did not make investment decisions. Yerbury attached no weight to the controversy concerning the presentation of her career, saying he had no doubts about her honesty.
Penny Mordaunt, a Leadsom supporter, described the reports as "a concerted effort to rubbish a stellar career". Leadsom then issued an amended CV, which The Guardian said gave her job title at Barclays "as deputy financial institutions director, not – as previously stated – financial institutions director." Leadsom defended her CV in a BBC interview, saying claims of it being exaggerated were "ridiculous". "I have not changed my CV," she said. "I was always very clear; I was senior investment officer working very closely with the chief investment officer. I have been very clear; I'm not a funds manager. I was, in Barclays and BZW, managing huge teams of people and large budgets and responsible for the trading relationships. To be very careful not to mislead, Barclays is a very big player in the large corporate and institutional banking world, and so the trading relationships are enormous – billions and billions and billions of pounds. So, when I was there as the financial institutions director [sic] responsible for UK banking relationship, the responsibility was for billions of pounds of trading lines and facilities to those companies … I've never said I was a fund manager and I've never been a fund manager", she said. According to FSA records she was authorised to run money for only three months.
Leadsom's comments in an interview with The Times were interpreted as hinting that that her being a mother meant that she was a better choice for Prime Minister than May, who has not been able to have children for health reasons, because it meant that she had "a very real stake" in the future. She said that she "did not want this to be 'Andrea has children, Theresa hasn't' because I think that would be really horrible". After The Times published the story, with the headline "Being a mother gives me an edge on May", Leadsom said that she was "disgusted" by the article, which was the "exact opposite of what I said". The Times later released a partial transcript of the comments, and when Leadsom supporter Penny Mordaunt said that it was trying to "smear" Leadsom, The Times released an audio recording. Her comments were widely criticised with fellow Conservative MPs including Sarah Woolaston and Anna Soubry suggesting the remarks showed she lacked the judgement to be Prime Minister and calling upon her to withdraw. Alan Duncan described her remarks as "vile." Tim Loughton, Leadsom's campaign manager for the leadership contest, claimed that the establishment were ganging up on her.
Leadsom apologised to Theresa May for her remarks and said that she was "guilty of naivety" and that the controversy over her remarks had made her cry.
In an interview with The Times, Andrea Leadsom suggested men should not be hired to look after young children as they might be paedophiles. In the interview she said: "As an employer we’re not, let’s face it, most of us don’t employ men as nannies, most of us don’t ... Now you can call that sexist, I call that cautious and very sensible when you look at the stats. Your odds are stacked against you if you employ a man. .. We know paedophiles are attracted to working with children. I’m sorry but they’re the facts.".
She promised to publish her tax returns when she made it to the final ballot of the leadership election. Three days later she published "one year of tax information after rival Theresa May released four years’ worth of tax returns". Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, a tax campaign group, said “This isn’t her tax return, it’s a tax computation...It’s a summary of numerical information but not an explanation of where it came from or what tax is due. It excludes all the information that might be of interest, so she has not published her tax return.”
Former conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith alleged that the intensity and nature of the sniping at Andrea Leadsom revealed ulterior motives, unconnected to her fitness for the post, saying to journalist Robert Peston that they indicated "a kind of real 'black-ops' operation to denigrate her reputation", writing later it constituted a "concerted and brutal attempt to destroy her character". Allison Pearson in The Sunday Telegraph wrote, "I have no doubt whatsoever that Leadsom became the target of a brutal and sustained character assassination." The next day she wrote, "Andrea Leadsom has nothing to be ashamed of: her conscience is clear. Those who sought to destroy her should examine theirs, if they can find it." Norman Tebbit described the efforts to remove her candidature as an intense smear campaign, saying that he suspected they may have arisen from her opposition to gay marriage as much as her Euroscepticism.
On 11 July 2016 Leadsom withdrew from the Conservative leadership election, stating that she did not have enough support for her cause, with only a quarter of the votes from the parliamentary party. The previous day The Sunday Times had reported a rumour that up to 20 Tory MPs would quit the party if Leadsom won the leadership contest; this was later supported by reports in other news media but "denied by MPs" according to The Guardian.
In her statement Leadsom said "the interests of our country are best served by the immediate appointment of a strong and well-supported prime minister. I am therefore withdrawing from the leadership election, and I wish Mrs May the very greatest success." However, her campaign manager, MP Tim Loughton spoke about an "onslaught of often very personal attacks from colleagues and journalists" as well as "underhand tactics against decent people". Leadsom had certainly been under pressure from the news media, with reports criticising her exaggeration of business and management experience and her suggestion that motherhood strengthened her candidacy for Prime Minister. Leadsom charged The Times with "gutter journalism" in response to the article about the motherhood issue. The Times subsequently released the audio tapes of the interview to confirm Leadsom's statement. Although she subsequently apologised "for any hurt I have caused" to Theresa May, she also related that she had felt "under attack, under enormous pressure … It has been shattering."
Her resignation statement did not touch on either controversy or her personal feelings. Instead, she thanked the 84 MPs who had supported her, conceding that "this is less than 25% of the parliamentary party and ... I do not believe this is sufficient support to win a strong and stable government should I win the leadership election". After her appointment as a Cabinet minister, other comments that Leadsom had made during the leadership race came to light and also led to criticism. During the 6 July 2016 interview with The Times, she had stated that men were more likely to be paedophiles than women and hence, were not suitable to be hired for jobs in daycare. Several MPs in opposition parties called for May to dismiss Leadsom from the Cabinet but the prime minister declined to do so.
Following Theresa May's cabinet shuffle on 14 July 2016 Leadsom moved from her role as Energy Minister to become Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
In April 2017, following the announcement of the general election in June, Leadsom attempted to delay a report of illegally high levels of diesel pollution affecting over half the population until after the election. Constitutional experts Dr Jo Murkens and Colin Talbot agreed it was a health issue and therefore not affected by the election and the government was instructed to appear in the high court to explain the delay.
On the anniversary of the Brexit vote, Leadsom was invited to discuss progress on Newsnight and claimed that the government had made "a good start." Whilst Emily Maitlis was in mid-sentence and pointing out that "it was a full year" and .."crucial issues were .." she was interrupted by Leadsom who appeared to challenge her right to ask questions, suggesting broadcasters should be "a little more patriotic." Tim Farron described her remarks as "a sinister threat to the free media," a comment echoed by Hugo Rifkind in The Times whilst Peston on Sunday mockingly displayed his patriotism by decorating the studio with union jacks.
Leadsom was involved with NORPIP, the Northamptonshire Parent Infant Partnership, a charity providing therapeutic support to help parents bond with their babies who have insecure attachment, and with PIPUK, the national body for Parent Infant Partnerships which set up branches in four further counties since its inception. The NORPIP branch was originally set up with majority funding from the Jersey-based Ana Leaf Foundation, of which Leadsom's sister Hayley, wife of Peter de Putron, is a trustee. NORPIP's original clinical director later described how she had resigned after six months, due to concerns that the charity was promoting messages that did not fully accord with the evidence base; however she stated that, three years on, she was confident that the clinicians recruited after she had left had been able to establish a high quality service, so did not wish to imply any concern about the services they provided.
She married hedge fund manager Ben Leadsom in 1993 and has two sons and one daughter. Following the birth of her first child, she suffered from postnatal depression for several months.
Leadsom states that Christianity has a central role in her life. She told Tim Ross of The Daily Telegraph: "I am a very committed Christian. I think my values and everything I do is driven by that." She participates in "various Bible studies groups" with other parliamentarians and prays "all the time" and has discussed her Christian faith openly in a video hosted on the website of the all party parliamentary group Christians in Parliament.