Owen Smith has said he wants Angela Eagle to be at his side as he prepares for a showdown with Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party. His comments came after Eagle pulled out of the leadership race "in the interests of the party", leaving him as the sole contender to face the incumbent Labour leader.

Eagle pledged to support Smith's bid with all her "might and enthusiasm" and her comments were welcomed by the ex-shadow work and pensions secretary. "I've come into the race full of ideas and full of energy," Smith told the BBC. "I'd just like to say to Angela – who is a great friend of mine and a wonderful Labour leader who's been a pioneer in our party for many years – that I will want to work side by side with her throughout this contest."

"I want Angela to be at my right hand throughout this, I need Angela to work alongside me throughout this contest and in the years that follow it," Smith added. "She is a great Labour woman and I absolutely cannot do without her in what will be a very difficult few months."

While a significant proportion of the party's membership believe that Smith does not have the right to oust Corbyn, the MP for Pontypridd insisted that he is capable of uniting a fractured opposition. "I want to say to all members of the Labour Party tonight – young and old, longstanding, new members – I can be their champion," Smith declared.

"I am just as radical as Jeremy Corbyn, I think Jeremy is owed a debt of gratitude for helping Labour rediscover its radical roots," he added. "But we do need a new generation of Labour men and women to take this party forward, to get us ready for government once more."

Smith refused to say whether he had offered Eagle a position in the shadow cabinet should he defeat Corbyn. Smith had won the backing of 90 Labour MPs, with Eagle trailing by 25 nominations, according to the BBC's Laura Kuennsberg.

After paving the way for Smith to take on Corbyn, Eagle said: "Owen has a lead in this race. I think it's right that I withdraw from this race and support Owen." She added: "We are going to be in lockstep together being a united Labour Party acting as Her Majesty's opposition".