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Suella Braverman accused Penny Mordaunt of failing to stand up for women and of not being an “authentic Brexiteer” after being dumped out of the Tory leadership race.
The Attorney General singled out Ms Mordaunt, one of the frontrunners in the increasingly bitter battle for No 10, for her apparently supportive stance on trans rights issues.
Ms Braverman failed to win sufficient support of her Conservative colleagues on Thursday to progress to the next round of the race to succeed Boris Johnson.
But rivals want to gain her endorsement and gather the votes of the 27 Tory MPs she managed to win when she came in last place, far behind Ms Mordaunt who was second on 83.
Ms Braverman declined to endorse any candidate, saying she was “considering all of the options”.
She indicated she would back the candidate who will “stop illegal migration across the Channel”, and who will deliver “Brexit opportunities”, a “tough line on identity politics” and tax cuts.
On Sky News, she praised Ms Mordaunt as a “very good politician”, but added that “I disagree with Penny on some key issues”.
Ms Braverman highlighted the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act that allowed her to take maternity leave last year without resigning as the Government’s chief law officer.
She alleged that Ms Mordaunt “did resist the inclusion of the word woman and the word mother and did only concede after unsustainable pressure from the House of Lords”.
“I was quite disappointed by the way in which it was handled and the responsible minister I’m afraid didn’t stand up for women and didn’t actually reflect the views of a lot of our party on wanting women to be authentically represented on the face of the Bill and in legislation,” Ms Braverman added.
Ms Mordaunt, a trade minister, has in the past denied this, saying the original gender-neutral wording had been drafted by someone else and that she changed it to “use female terms”.
It was me that changed maternity legislation that was drafted in gender neutral language ( by another) to use female terms. I have also defended free speech on these issues. pic.twitter.com/HGtz2XlWsc
— Penny Mordaunt (@PennyMordaunt) July 9, 2022
Most expect Ms Braverman’s vote to go to a candidate seen as being on the right of the party, such as Kemi Badenoch or Liz Truss, but she also reserved praise for Rishi Sunak.
Ms Braverman insisted she has “personal friendships with all of the candidates” but acknowledged they all have their “pros and cons” as she weighs up who to back.
“Ultimately, I was the only authentic Brexiteer, the party has turned me down,” she told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.
Told that Ms Mordaunt long supported Brexit, Ms Braverman said: “No I disagree because I was the only candidate who actually took a stance on Theresa May’s deal.”
Ms Braverman added: “My perception of Penny is she takes a different view to me when it comes to gender ideology and the position of trans, for example, I think she said a trans women is a woman, I disagree with that.”
Ms Mordaunt was increasingly coming under attack from the right of the Conservative Party, as she gained support among MPs and from Tory members, who will make the ultimate decision.
Former Brexit minister Lord Frost alleged that she was not up to the job when she was his deputy in talks with the EU.
Treasury Chief Secretary Simon Clarke claimed “a number of very senior ministers” are not backing Ms Mordaunt.
Former cabinet minister David Davis, a supporter of Ms Mordaunt, criticised the “black ops” being directed at her.
“I wouldn’t describe it as friendly fire,” he told Sky News. “It’s absolutely clockwork – you get to the point that somebody gets ahead and looks to be the real challenger and then the black op starts, the incoming fire starts.”