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Tory leadership contender Penny Mordaunt has claimed she is the victim of “smears” following fresh claims about her views on transgender issues.
The international trade minister rejected claims she had ever pursued a policy of self-identification for trans people seeking to legally change gender after press reports appeared to cast doubt on her earlier denials.
In the first televised debate on Friday, Ms Mordaunt clashed with Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch after they claimed they had been responsible for reversing the policy which she championed as an equalities minister.
However The Sunday Times said it had seen government papers which appeared to suggest Ms Mordaunt was in favour of removing at least one element of the medical process required for transgender people to legally transition.
It said another paper from February 2020 confirmed that the Government’s support for self-identification ended after she was replaced as the minister in charge.
Ms Mordaunt told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme that she had never advocated ending the requirement for trans people to obtain a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria before they could legally change gender.
“This has been rebutted many times. We all know what is going on. This is the type of toxic politics people want to get away from,” she said.
“We did a consultation. We asked healthcare professionals what they thought about the situation. That is the section I looked after. I managed that consultation. We didn’t actually on my shift produce a policy.
“There is a number of smears going on in the papers. My colleagues are very angry and upset that this is how the leadership contest is being dragged down.”
However Ms Badenoch’s campaign manager Tory MP Lee Rowley told Sky News: “Penny has a set of questions to answer.”
The row comes as MPs prepare for the third round of voting on Monday, which will see the remaining candidates whittled down from five to four.
Ms Mordaunt finished an unexpectedly strong second in the first two ballots and her supporters believe she is being targeted by rivals who fear they risk being squeezed out of the final ballot of party members.
The claims relate to her time as a minister under Theresa May when she was defence secretary but also had responsibility for women and equalities.
The Sunday Times quoted from a memorandum written in July 2019 to Ms Mordaunt and senior officials which stated: “Currently, applicants are required to provide two medical reports: a diagnosis of gender dysphoria (which we are now intending to remove) and a report detailing any medical treatment received.
“There is no requirement to have undergone any medical treatment as part of transitioning, nor does the report’s contents have any bearing on the panel’s decision, so it is unclear what practical value this current report has in the process.
“However, this element of the process goes to the heart of whether we have a system that is essentially self-identification, or whether there are external checks in place.”
A spokesman for her campaign said the leaked documents prove that all the ministers in the department at the time had wanted to maintain an element of medical involvement in the process.
However Mr Rowley said: “Either Penny did agree with self-ID and is now saying she didn’t – the question ‘why?’ Or Penny didn’t agree with self-ID but it looks as though the Government, civil service and the department decided to do it anyway – the question ‘how did she let that happen?’”
Ms Mordaunt also came under fire from supporters of former chancellor Rishi Sunak over her plans to cut taxes – halving VAT on fuel and raising income tax thresholds for those on lower and middle incomes.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said candidates who were advocating tax cuts, such as Ms Mordaunt and Foreign Secretary Ms Truss, needed to explain how they would be paid for.
“You can’t borrow your way out of an inflation crisis,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.
“We want to all leave people with more money in their pocket. But if you cut taxes and inflation robs people of that money because it is worthless or sees interest rates go up so their mortgage is more expensive, then frankly it is a false economy.”
Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is backing Ms Truss, also took aim at Ms Mordaunt, saying “I don’t know what her achievements are”.
Ms Mordaunt acknowledged her plans would mean the Government borrowing to cover day-to-day expenditure but said people struggling with the cost of living needed help.
“We would have to adjust our tax forecasts but this is absolutely necessary, I think. This is, compared to other candidates, a very modest set of targeted support I have announced to help people,” she said.
Meanwhile Tom Tugendhat, who is fighting to stay in the race after finishing fifth in the last ballot, said he represented the “clean start” the party needed after three years of Boris Johnson’s leadership.
“In two years’ time we are going to be facing Keir Starmer in a general election,” he told the Sunday Morning programme.
“We need to make sure that all the attack lines that have been used against us in the last three years don’t come back in a general election.”