'It's not about him': Penny Mordaunt denies offering to support Boris Johnson for PM

Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt arrives in Downing Street in London, ahead of a cabinet meeting. Picture date: Tuesday October 18, 2022.
Penny Mordaunt has insisted she is "in it to win it" and denies being poised to join Boris Johnson's camp. (PA)

Penny Mordaunt says claims her team offered to support Boris Johnson in the Tory leadership race in exchange for a job are "completely false".

The Commons leader said she is "not contemplating how the other camps are organising themselves" as she made her pitch to become the UK's next prime minister.

Styling herself as a unity candidate who can bring a bitterly divided Tory party together, she told the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show: “People are fed up of the factional rows, the focus on ourselves.

"We have got to remember why we came to this place in the first place, it was to serve our constituents and our communities.”

Pressed by Kuenssberg on reports that she was ready to drop out and pledge her allegiance to Johnson in exchange for a cabinet position, she said the claim is "completely false".

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Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Gatwick Airport in London, after travelling on a flight from the Caribbean, following the resignation of Liz Truss as Prime Minister. Picture date: Saturday October 22, 2022.
Johnson flew home from his Caribbean holiday yesterday to join the race. (PA)

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Having only resigned in July after one scandal too many, a Johnson comeback is likely to deepen division within the Conservative Party.

While Tories are very excited about the prospect, arguing he secured a strong mandate from the public in the 2019 election, others have said his return would mean a "death spiral" for the party.

Nadhim Zahawi has pledged his support for Johnson, despite resigning as chancellor just over a day after being appointed by his government.

His departure was the start of a mass exodus of ministers, over the handling of the Partygate and Chris Pincher scandals, which eventually forced Johnson to stand down.

Changing his position in a tweet this morning, Zahawi said Johnson “got the big calls right” on Covid vaccinations, arming Ukraine and “stepping down for the sake of unity”.

He added: “When I was Chancellor, I saw a preview of what Boris 2.0 would look like. He was contrite & honest about his mistakes. He’d learned from those mistakes how he could run No10 & the country better.”

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Nadim Zahawi is now backing Boris Johnson despite resigning as chancellor one day after he was appointed. (Twitter)
Nadim Zahawi is now backing Boris Johnson despite resigning as chancellor one day after he was appointed. (Twitter)

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Asked if she would be comfortable with Johnson stepping back into No 10 after being ousted just a few months ago, Mordaunt told Kuenssberg: "It’s not about him, it’s not about me, it’s about the public.

"We coin the phrase 'the Westminster Bubble' - it is. It’s not about us, it’s about what we do, it’s about people being able to see a GP, it’s about people being able to get through winter without being worried about how they’re going to keep the heating and the lights on."

Mordaunt is understood to have around 20 of the 100 nominations needed to reach the parliamentary stage of the leadership contest - trailing far behind Johnson and former chancellor Rishi Sunak.

But she insisted she is gaining supporters from other camps and that she is "very confident" of her progress, adding: "I am in it to win it."

The former defence secretary refused to be drawn on any tax cuts or reforms she would make if chosen to become Tory leader by the end of next week.

Prime Minister Liz Truss leaves Downing Street, London following her resignation yesterday. Picture date: Friday October 21, 2022. (Photo by James Manning/PA Images via Getty Images)
Liz Truss announced her resignation on Thursday after just 45 days in office. (Getty Images).

But she has insisted Jeremy Hunt would stay on as chancellor under her premiership to ensure a "smooth transition of power" ahead of the 31 October budget.

Hunt has remained relatively tight lipped but has warned "difficult decisions" will be made, as he seeks to reassure the markets and salvage the government and party's reputation for fiscal prudence.

It comes after Liz Truss announced her resignation on Thursday after just 45 days in office, making her the shortest serving prime minister in British history.

Her proposed package of £45 billion in tax cuts - benefiting mainly the wealthy and funded by more public borrowing - sent investors into a panic and the value of the pound crashing.

She sacked Kwasi Kwarteng, and his successor tore most of her programme to shreds, and despite clinging onto power for a few more days, her credibility was too damaged for her to stay on.

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London, to appear on the BBC One current affairs programme, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. Picture date: Sunday October 23, 2022.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, arriving for his interview with Laura Kuenssberg, is calling for a general election. (PA)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer says that during such a turbulent time for the country, the government and the Conservative Party, a general election is needed to give the public a proper say on how to restore stability.

He told Kuenssberg: “These people are so fed up, they are entitled, they want a say in this. There is a choice to be made.

"We need a general election, let the public decide, do they want to continue with this utter chaos? Or do they want stability with a Labour government?"

Sir Keir conceded that the Labour party has no power to force a general election but said Tory MPs can "either put their party first or their country first".