The former Brexit minister David Frost has urged Kemi Badenoch to pull out of the Tory leadership contest to bolster Liz Truss’s position in the race.
Lord Frost also stepped up his attacks on the second-placed candidate Penny Mordaunt, saying she was “absent on parade” when he worked with her on post-Brexit negotiations last year.
Truss was picking up support from the Tory right after the attorney general, Suella Braverman, was eliminated from an increasingly bitter leadership race in which the former chancellor Rishi Sunak came out top and Mordaunt second in the latest round of MPs’ votes.
The contest is descending into acrimony as the candidates prepare for the first TV debate on Channel 4 this evening.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Frost said: “Kemi and Suella Braverman set out convincing programmes, with differing emphases, for change.
“But Liz’s depth of experience, her energy and ideas – as well as the simple fact she has the most votes of the three – put her in the lead.
“It is now time for pragmatism. I urge Kemi to stand down in return for a serious job in a Truss administration.”
Badenoch’s campaign, however, said she was “in it to win”.
The former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who is also backing Truss declined on Friday to directly criticise Mordaunt but emphasised Truss’s experience.
He told LBC: “We can’t just elect somebody because, for a short period of time, they may look better than others. What we’re actually electing is not, in a way, a popularity contest. We’re electing somebody who has to govern for probably two years with a huge set of crises.”
Braverman was knocked out of the race after receiving 27 votes in the second round, and immediately assailed Mordaunt over the issue of trans rights and later announced she would be backing Truss’s bid.
Rival camps were sharing a video of Mordaunt discussing legislation in the Commons at the time, in which she says: “Let me say in proposing, from this dispatch box, that trans men are men, trans women are women.”
Since launching her campaign Mordaunt has sought to play down the idea that she is too “woke” for the tastes of Tory members.
The contentious issue of trans rights is likely to be raised in tonight’s 90-minute debate at BT studios, which will be moderated by the Channel 4 news anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
The candidates will be quizzed by a London audience of 50 to 100 people, most of them floating voters, with Guru-Murthy asking follow-up questions.
The candidates will take turns to respond, followed by eight to 10 minutes of debate between them. They will have 45 seconds each for closing statements at the end.
Dame Maria Miller, a Mordaunt backer, said questions over transgender rights and identity should not be part of the “political fray”.
She also rejected the criticism from Frost, telling Sky News he was wrong about Mordaunt.
“I have seen her to be a very effective campaigner. She really is one of the leading proponents of Brexit and was throughout the campaign.”
July 15, 2022 at 01:54PM Jamie Grierson