• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Mordaunt accuses Tory rivals of trying to block her from reaching final two

·6-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Allies of Liz Truss have denied involvement in a “black ops” campaign against rival Penny Mordaunt as the race to replace Boris Johnson becomes increasingly bitter.

The Foreign Secretary is bidding to consolidate and increase support from the right of the Conservative Party in the leadership contest in the face of a surge by the trade minister.

Ms Mordaunt claims to be unfazed by rivals’ attacks, suggesting other candidates are trying to stop her getting into the final two to avoid facing her in the deciding vote of party members.

Criticism of her for being too “woke” on issues such as trans rights, she predicts, is doomed to fail.

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak came out on top of Thursday’s voting, with second place going to Ms Mordaunt, who bore the brunt of attacks from rival camps as she gained the most momentum.

“People, obviously, are trying to stop me getting into the final because they don’t want to run against me,” Ms Mordaunt said in a punchy interview with Sky News.

Ms Mordaunt said it is “understandable” her rivals are trying to stop her but declined to be drawn into criticism of other candidates.

“I care about my colleagues. I have great colleagues and we have to, at the end of this contest, come together as a party.”

“You can see from my campaign, I’m not engaging in any of that.”

Transport minister and Ms Truss backer Wendy Morton, appearing on Times Radio on Friday morning, denied involvement in any kind of untoward campaign after former Cabinet minister David Davis, a supporter of Ms Mordaunt, called out “black ops” directed at her.

Conservative leadership bid
Penny Mordaunt at the launch of her campaign to be Conservative Party leader (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ms Morton said: “What I am involved in is a campaign to get Liz Truss elected as the next leader of the Conservative Party because I happen to think, I know, that she’s the right candidate.

“I worked with her at the Foreign Office and I saw first hand how hard working she is, how dedicated she is, and how she just gets on with the job and she delivers.”

She said the Ms Truss camp is not concerned about the lead Ms Mordaunt has maintained in the first two ballots, indicating hopes Tory MPs might get behind her candidate.

Ms Morton added: “You know, we have still got rounds of voting to go. There are still candidates. There are colleagues out there who have not declared for a candidate. There are colleagues who have voted for candidates who have now dropped out of the race. So, it’s all to play for.”

Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, came out in support of Ms Truss after being eliminated from the contest.

She fared the worst in the second round of voting and leaves five contenders, who will take part in the first televised debate on Friday evening.

Ms Braverman described the Foreign Secretary as the “best person to unleash the opportunities of Brexit” and deliver tax cuts, as the right of the party seeks to rally round a single candidate.

Conservative leadership election: second ballot
(PA Graphics)

Taking influential Tory Steve Baker’s vote with her, it was a blow to Kemi Badenoch, who is facing pressure to pull out and back Ms Truss to keep Mr Sunak or Ms Mordaunt out of No 10.

Sources close to Ms Braverman told the PA news agency she made the decision after holding talks with Ms Truss.

In a statement, the Attorney General said: “Liz is the best person to unleash the opportunities of Brexit and deliver much-needed tax cuts.

“I’m confident she will defend free speech, champion equality of opportunity and take a robust line on illegal immigration.”

Ms Mordaunt has faced a scathing attack from former Brexit minister Lord Frost, who also urged Ms Badenoch to pull out of the Tory leadership contest so there can be “unity among free marketeers”.

Lord Frost, seen as an influential figure among the Tory Party grassroots, described Ms Mordaunt as “absent on parade” when he worked with her on post-Brexit negotiations last year.

In her Sky News interview, Ms Mordaunt took the opportunity to rebuff suggestions she is a lightweight candidate or one with limited experience.

Nor is she scared of becoming prime minister, she said.

She predicted that some of the criticism against her, for apparently being too socially liberal, will not derail her campaign.

“Look at how we’re doing in the polls in the country, in London, in Scotland, with young people, with women, with red wall, with blue wall,” she told Sky News.

“It’s not having an impact on my campaign, and it’s not having an impact on my parliamentary campaign.

“And I think the reason for that is that people recognise it for what it is.

“I understand why people are trying to stop me getting into the final two, but I am going to stay focused on the things that matter to the public and the people we’re here to serve.”

Tory MP Dame Maria Miller, a backer of Ms Mordaunt, said her candidate wants a positive campaign.

“Penny’s support among members of Parliament has grown and that is the same throughout the country,” she told Sky News.

She said polling is showing her “support base is growing”.

Dame Maria added: “This leadership contest is run along a set of lines and I think people will want it to be a positive campaign. We’re colleagues, together, we’re not opposing each other in a fundamental political sense.

“It is just about getting a new leader.”

Mr Sunak picked up 101 votes in the second ballot, Ms Mordaunt 83, Ms Truss 64, Ms Badenoch 49 and Tom Tugendhat 32.

Mr Tugendhat, despite dropping five votes, insisted he will not quit the race as the remaining contenders progress to a round of televised debates.

“I have never turned down a challenge because the odds were against me. I don’t plan to start now,” the senior backbencher said.

The five candidates in the Conservative Party leadership race, (top row left to right), Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch
The five candidates in the Conservative Party leadership race, (top row left to right), Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch (UK Parliament/PA)

His allies are hoping his fortunes can be reversed by a strong performance in the TV debates over the coming days, with backer Tory MP Jake Berry stressing it will be a “key weekend” for his candidate.

Ms Badenoch’s campaign, however, has also said she is “in it to win”.

Channel 4 said all five candidates have confirmed they will take part in its debate on Friday night, with further televised clashes set for Sunday and Tuesday.

The next round of voting is due on Monday, with subsequent rounds if required until there are just two candidates, who will then battle it out over the summer to win the support of Conservative members.

Their choice of the next prime minister will be announced on September 5.

Mr Johnson will then formally tender his resignation to the Queen to make way for his successor the following day.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting