Penny Mordaunt momentum continues as infighting dogs Tory leadership content

Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak continues to lead the contest picking up 101 votes, with Ms Mordaunt on 83, followed by the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on 64.Kemi Badenoch made it through on 49, followed by Tom Tugendhat on 32, with Suella Braverman eliminated on 27.

However, on a day that saw Ms Mordaunt gain the most with 16 new supporters, things became increasingly bitter as supporters of other candidates began to attack her.

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It started with the former Brexit minister Lord Frost, who claimed she was not up to the job when she was his deputy in talks with the EU.

(L-R) Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch, Rishi Sunak, and Tom Tugendhat.

Lord Frost said she lacked a grasp of the detail, was unwilling to deliver tough messages to Brussels, and that he had had to ask Boris Johnson to replace her.

He said: “I am quite surprised at where she is in this leadership race. She was my deputy – notionally, more than really – in the Brexit talks last year.

“I felt she did not master the detail that was necessary in the negotiations last year. She wouldn’t always deliver tough messages to the European Union when that was necessary.

“She wasn’t fully accountable, she wasn’t always visible. Sometimes I didn’t even know where she was.

“This became such a problem that, after six months, I had to ask the Prime Minister to move her on and find somebody else to support me.”

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Claiming to have “grave reservations”, he continued: “If you are a prime minister you have got to be able to take responsibility, you have got to be able to run the machine, you have got to be able to take tough decisions, deliver tough messages.

Asked whether Brexit would be safe in Ms Mordaunt’s hands, Lord Frost said: “I would worry, on the basis of what I have seen, we wouldn’t necessarily get that from Penny.”

Allies of Ms Mordaunt said she had “nothing but respect” for Lord Frost despite his scathing attack on her.

A source in the Penny Mordaunt campaign said: “He did a huge amount to assist our negotiations until he resigned from Government.

“Penny will always fight for Brexit and always has.”

His comments then led to a series of escalating attacks on the Portsmouth North MP, with a video of the interview being re-tweeted by Treasury Chief Secretary Simon Clarke – who is backing Liz Truss for leader.

Mr Clarke said: “Lord Frost’s warning is a really serious one. Conservatives – and, far more importantly, our country – need a leader who is tested and ready.”

After being eliminated later on Thursday, the Attorney General Ms Braverman joined in, accusing her of not standing up for women.

She said: “Penny is a very good politician, I disagree with Penny on some key issues, in relation to one specific matter, i.e. the maternity Bill that was passed for my benefit when I had my baby last year.

“I do have to say that Hansard and the record shows that Penny Mordaunt as the Bill minister, the minister responsible for passing that legislation, did oppose and 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: “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 woman, I disagree with that.”

Former cabinet minister David Davis, a supporter of Ms Mordaunt, criticised the “black ops” being directed at her.

He said: “I wouldn’t describe it as friendly fire.

“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.”

Mr Tugendhat warned all candidates had to be prepared for criticism, following Lord Frost’s broadside against Ms Mordaunt.

He said: “It’s not always easy but I think it’s fair because if you are running for an office like this it is fair that those who know you express views.

“Some of them are going to be nice, some of them less so.

“This is a really short interview round for a hell of a big job.”

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak insisted his wealth and background in international finance do not bar him from understanding the plight of hard-pressed households.

He said: “I don’t judge people by their bank accounts, I judge them by their character, and I think people can judge me by my actions over the past couple of years.”

Mr Sunak defended his economic plan, which would not involve the immediate tax cuts promised by his rivals.

He insisted: “I will get taxes down in this Parliament, but I’m going to do so responsibly.

“Because I don’t cut taxes to win elections, I win elections to cut taxes, and I’m convinced that I’m the best person to beat Keir Starmer and the Labour Party at the next election.”

Television debates are scheduled for this evening, Sunday and Monday.

The next round of voting is due on Monday, with subsequent rounds if required until two candidates are left, who will then battle it out over the summer to win the support of Conservative members, with their choice of the next prime minister being unveiled on September 5.

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