Michael Gove has said Boris Johnson will make a “great” prime minister three years after sabotaging his previous leadership bid by saying he was not up to the job.
The Environment Secretary, who hopes to remain in the Cabinet regardless of who wins the Tory leadership race, refused to say who he had voted for, but insisted he would be happy with either Mr Johnson or Jeremy Hunt in charge.
His comments mark a dramatic about-turn from his view in 2016 that Mr Johnson could not “provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.
Some supporters of Mr Johnson have never forgiven Mr Gove for stabbing him in the back on the day he was due to launch his last leadership bid, deciding to run against him rather than helping to run his campaign.
He said at the time that he could not “recommend to my friends that this person is right to be prime minister”
But with his job now on the line, Mr Gove used a speech about the environment to announce that he had changed his mind.
Mr Gove, who was eliminated from the current leadership election after coming third in the final ballot of Tory MPs, said: “In 2016 I made a set of decisions based on events at that time.
“I have seen during the course of this leadership election both candidates have run disciplined and effective campaigns in which they have made optimistic pitches for what the next government should do.
“They have demonstrated the level of ambition for this country and generosity towards others which becomes a good prime minister - a great prime minister potentially.
“And also, I have to say that seeing some of the actions Boris took when I was in government, and that Jeremy has taken, my admiration for both has only increased.”
Mr Gove was asked who had voted for, and hinted that he had not yet sent back his ballot paper, joking: “I won’t say who I’m going to vote for, it will be the love that dare not speak its name.
“Whoever is the prime minister if they wanted me to serve in their government I would be happy to do so.
“If they wanted to send me to the back benches I would completely understand.”