Top Tory leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt has been accused by senior Whitehall figures of neglecting her duties as a trade minister for the past six months, with one claiming “we’ve been a minister down for a long time”.
A senior source from the Department for International Trade (DIT) told City A.M. that other ministers had been forced to “work two jobs” due to Mordaunt, while adding that she had refused to go on several official trips to instead focus on her leadership campaign.
She was also accused of refusing to participate in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday and instead made Andrew Griffith represent the government, after only joining the trade department seven days ago as a junior minister – a claim Mordaunt’s team denies.
The former defence secretary – a socially liberal Brexiteer and one of several leadership frontrunners – officially launched her Tory leadership campaign on Sunday, however she had been sounding out support among Conservative MPs since the start of the year.
Guido Fawkes’ running tally has her on 25 endorsements from MPs, the second most behind ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak, and she came first in yesterday’s preferred Prime Minister poll of Tory members by Conservative Home.
None of her MP endorsements come from ministers she has worked with in the trade department.
One senior DIT source said Mordaunt had been “missing for months” and that she had refused to go on a trip to Indiana to sign a state-wide trade agreement she had negotiated.
When asked why she was not able to go, the source said: “I have no f***ing idea.”
One DIT official said: “Doing state-wide trade deals with the US is something she’s been pushing for, but when the deal was signed she didn’t go. She was asked to go, but she just refused.
“This is the sort of stuff we’ve been dealing with for a while. And when I say a while I mean six or more months.”
It was pointed out by another official that Mordaunt had not visited any countries that form the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade bloc, despite this being in her remit.
The UK is currently negotiating to join the 11-country trading bloc post-Brexit, with Mordaunt and trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan leading on the work.
One DIT source stood up for Mordaunt and said while she “isn’t always reliable for engagements” that “she cares about the narrative of her brief”.
“She’s put a fair amount of energy into her US states level agenda … she got the importance of what she was doing on US trade and engagement where others haven’t,” they said.
Mordaunt is one of the bookies’ favourites to become the UK’s next Prime Minister – along with Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss – and has been courting support from across the ideological divide within the party.
Tory big beast and leading Brexiteer David Davis endorsed her today, while she also has support from moderate MPs like Alicia Kearns, George Freeman and Harriett Baldwin.
Mordaunt has not made any public appearances since launching her campaign via a social media video on Sunday, but has promised tax cuts and to govern in a more collaborative style than Boris Johnson.
Conservative MPs will hold a series of votes starting tomorrow to whittle down the wide field of candidates to a final two names.
The last two candidates will then face off in a six-week campaign, which will see the Conservative party’s 200,000 members choose a new leader and Prime Minister on 5 September.
A source from a rival leadership campaign said the claims made about Mordaunt by DIT officials showed she did not have the work ethic to become Prime Minister.
“Her policy platform is wafer thin and she doesn’t have the depth to win a general election,” they said.
Mordaunt was contacted for comment.