Who is Penny Mordaunt and what is the Tory leadership contender’s stance on Brexit and trans rights?

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·5-min read
Who is Penny Mordaunt and what is the Tory leadership contender’s stance on Brexit and trans rights?
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Penny Mordaunt is among the frontrunners to take over from Boris Johnson as prime minister.

The trade minister is second only to former Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the number of endorsements from Tory MPs.

The Portsmouth North MP is also a favourite among Tory party members and has consistently appeared at the top of Conservative Home polls.

What is her political background?

The 49-year-old first ran for Parliament in her home town of Portsmouth in 2005, but lost out to Labour's Sarah McCarthy-Fry. In 2010 she stood again and won the seat with a majority of more than 7,000 votes, achieving an almost 9 per cent swing to the Conservative party.

Before running as an MP, she was an active Tory member. After graduating from the University of Reading with a Philosophy degree in 1995 she acted as the head of youth for the Conservative Party and went on to become the Tory head of broadcasting under William Hague.

Ms Mordaunt then held various communications jobs, including as Head of Foreign Press for George W. Bush's presidential campaign, and as comms director for Kensington and Chelsea council from 2001 to 2003.

What government role does she currently hold?

Ms Mordaunt is currently international trade minister and was not among the dozens of Tories who resigned their government posts last week over Boris Johnson's leadership.

Previously she has held two cabinet roles, including becoming the first ever female Secretary of State for Defence in 2019 following the sacking of Gavin Williamson.

But she was demoted under Mr Johnson. It was speculated that she fell out of favour with him for backing the Prime Minister’s rival Jeremy Hunt in the last Tory leadership race.

Under David Cameron she achieved ministerial rank between 2014 and 2016 and was appointed minister for disabled people when Theresa May took power in 2016.

Her Royal Navy background

Penny Mordaunt, a Navy reservist, was sacked as defence secretary by Boris Johnson in 2019 (PA Media)
Penny Mordaunt, a Navy reservist, was sacked as defence secretary by Boris Johnson in 2019 (PA Media)

Ms Mordaunt is a Royal Navy reservist. Her father, John, was paratrooper and she served as acting sub-lieutenant of the Portsmouth-based HMS King Alfred in 2010.

She was made an honorary commander in 2019 and an honourary captain on in June 2021.

What was her position on Brexit?

During the Brexit referendum she was one of the leading faces of the Leave campaign and has continued to insist that the benefits of leaving the EU "are huge" for the UK.

A month before the vote in May 2016 she controversially claimed that the UK would have no say in whether Turkey could join the EU.

Her claims that the government was "not going to be consulted" on new EU members had to be denied by then Prime Minister David Cameron.

Her Trans rights suppport and controversy

Ms Mordaunt has been a supporter of trans rights and was previously praised by LGBTQ groups for her allyship.

Last year at the House of Commons despatch box she told MPs: "Trans men are men and trans women are women."

However she drew criticism from some campaigners over the weekend for clarifying that she did not believe that trans women are “biological women”.

Blasting critics who have attempted to depict her as "woke" over her stance, she said: "I am biologically a woman. If I have a hysterectomy or mastectomy, I am still a woman.

"And I am legally a woman. Some people born male and who have been through the gender recognition process are also legally female. That DOES NOT mean they are biological women, like me.

"All my life, I’ve fought for gender equality. I’ve stood up for women. I’ve listened to them. I’ve been right alongside them in every major battle. I make sure policy is focussed on them. Just look at my track record.

"My work resulted in a comprehensive road map of what any government should be focussing on for women at every stage of their lives. It remains relevant today."

Personal life and appearance on ITV reality show Splash!

Penny Mordaunt appeared on the ITV show Splash (PA)
Penny Mordaunt appeared on the ITV show Splash (PA)

In 2014 Ms Mordaunt appeared on the short-lived reality TV show Splash!

Presented by Olympian Tom Daley, it featured celebrities learning how to dive.

Labour criticised her appearing on the show saying she should have focused on her constituency work.

But Ms Mordaunt defended signing up as a contests and donated the £10,000 appearance fee to charity.

During interviews to promote the show, Ms Mordaunt revealed that her mother died of breast cancer when she was just 15 – the same year her father was also diagnosed with the disease – and she became a "child carer".

She said she took a job as a magician’s assistant to fund her college studies. The job involved her being "sawn in half", she said.

Controversies surrounding her leadership campaign launch

Paralympic athlete Jonnie Peacock was among the public figures who asked to be removed from Ms Mordaunt's promotional video announcing her leadership bid on Sunday.

She posted the video on Twitter with the caption: “Our leadership has to change. It needs to become a little less about the leader and a lot more about the ship.”

Mr Peacock appeared in the video crossing the finish line of a Paralympic race.

The runner replied: “I officially request to be removed from this video...anything but blue please.”

The clip also featured South African sprinter and convicted killer Oscar Pistorius competing at the 2012 London Olympics.

Both had been removed from a video posted later in the day, as was a snippet of an interview with Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert who helped develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

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