Penny Mordaunt missed key meetings in her role as a Government minister in order to plot her leadership campaign, her departmental boss has claimed.
The trade minister’s absence forced colleagues to pick up the pieces, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan alleged in a scathing attack on the leadership hopeful.
The Cabinet minister is backing Tom Tugendhat for the Conservative Party leadership, but he is at risk of being eliminated from the contest in the next round of voting later on Monday.
International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan says there have been 'a number of times' where Penny Mordaunt 'hasn't been available and other ministers have had to pick up the pieces' in recent months.#CallTheCabinet | @annietrev | @NickFerrariLBC pic.twitter.com/aYdkoO1JGj
— LBC (@LBC) July 18, 2022
Asked about Ms Mordaunt’s grasp of details, Ms Trevelyan said: “We all do our jobs in different ways.
“Understandably, perhaps, now it’s clear, Penny has for the last few months spent some of her time focused on preparing her leadership campaign, for which I have utmost respect, that’s how this system works.”
Ms Trevelyan told LBC Radio: “There have been a number of times when she hasn’t been available, which would have been useful, and other ministers have picked up the pieces.”
The contenders for the Tory leadership will be whittled down to just four as MPs cast their votes in the third round of the contest to find a successor to Boris Johnson.
Mr Tugendhat had fewer votes than his remaining rivals in the last ballot on Thursday and he would seem to be in the most jeopardy this time round.
Ms Trevelyan said she hopes he will get another chance to run for the leadership if he fails in this attempt.
“He has this extraordinary ability to bring people together to work with him who would not otherwise work together,” she said.
“I think it’s a genuine gift and I wanted the rest of the world to see much more of it.
“If this isn’t his time, I hope that there will be a future time when he can lead the party.”
The remaining candidates were involved in series of bad-tempered exchanges in the latest TV debate – staged by ITV – on Sunday evening as the battle for a place in the run-off ballot of party members became ever more bitter.
And former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch and Mr Tugendhat – who finished fourth and fifth respectively in the last ballot and are battling to avoid elimination – squared off over who has the record and experience to be prime minister.
Ms Truss will be hoping to pick up votes from Attorney General Suella Braverman, who endorsed her candidacy after she was eliminated in the last round.
Despite having voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, the Foreign Secretary is backed by many Brexiteers while Ms Braverman is a longstanding supporter of leaving the EU.
Unless a significant slice of the 27 MPs who voted for Ms Braverman last time now switch to her, Ms Truss’s hopes of overhauling Ms Mordaunt in second place may be slim.
The Foreign Secretary certainly opened the debate in a combative mood, attacking Mr Sunak for putting up taxes to their highest level in 70 years, choking off economic recovery in the process.
The former chancellor hit back, accusing her of peddling “something-for-nothing economics”, adding that “isn’t Conservative. It’s socialism”.
He later asked her pointedly which she regretted most – having been a Remainer or a Liberal Democrat.
Mr Sunak also tangled with Ms Mordaunt, saying her plan to relax the fiscal rules and “put day-to-day bills on the country’s credit card” is “not just wrong, it is dangerous”.
“Even Jeremy Corbyn didn’t go that far,” he added.
Cabinet minister Kit Malthouse said he expects the Tories to pull together in a “spirit of harmony and love” after the leadership battle.
“All political parties are standing coalitions and the Conservative Party is the same,” he told Sky News.
“A vigorous exchange of ideas, in what is a challenging time for the country, should be expected when you are talking about such important issues and the leadership of a G7 nation.
“If it was just a polite agreement and consensus across the board, there wouldn’t be much point in having a competition at all.”
Mr Malthouse has not publicly declared his support for any of the candidates to succeed Mr Johnson.
A series of votes among Tory MPs this week will narrow the field down to a final two, who will then face a summer of campaigning for the support of party members in a final vote.
The new leader will be announced on September 5 and is expected to become prime minister the following day.
Mr Sunak said that if he is successful his first foreign trip would be to Kyiv to stress the UK’s continued support for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion.
He told The Sun: “I will reinforce our policy of total support for Ukraine that Boris has so ably led.”
But Ms Mordaunt said her campaign had the support of 10 Ukrainian MPs.
Meanwhile Ms Truss seized on analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research which suggested that tax revenues in 2024/25 will be around £60 billion more than the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates, partly due to the impact of high inflation.
A spokeswoman for Ms Truss said: “The CEBR analysis shows that there is money for tax cuts whilst still bringing debt down.”