Penny Mordaunt has Irish Catholic roots, it has emerged, but her staunch support for Brexit makes her an outlier not just among many of those with Irish heritage but among her extended family.
“She is the only member of the family – brothers, father, uncles, cousins and others – that supported Brexit,” her uncle Henry Mordaunt said as he revealed that the family’s Catholic ancestors fled England and moved to Ireland, possibly to escape religious persecution in the wake of Henry VIII’s Reformation.
He said it was a “complete surprise” to see his niece emerge as a frontrunner to become the UK’s next prime minister, given she had a low public profile during Boris Johnson’s leadership.
“I disagree with her politics, unfortunately, but I would be happy for her if she achieves her ambition,” he told the Irish Times.
He said reports that her grandfather had supported the IRA during the 1922–23 Irish civil war were incorrect. “He refused to take part fighting fellow Irish men in a civil war when he was called up and so he was interned,” he said.
His extensive research into the Mordaunt family history reports that the Mordaunts were likely to have came to England as part of the Norman invasion in 1066.
Some of them fled in the mid-1600s to Ireland to escape the religious persecution of Catholics during the Reformation.
While Penny Mordaunt was born in the UK, her paternal grandfather, Edward Mordaunt, was Irish, born to Irish parents in Canterbury.
Records do not exist to confirm the reason why some of the family ended up in Ireland but Henry believes it was part of a “substantial movement of Catholic English emigrants to Ireland” in the 16th and 17th centuries as anti-Catholic laws were not enforced so heavily there.
Mordaunt has not mentioned her Irish links during her leadership campaign nor revealed her views of the Northern Ireland protocol bill tabled by her arch rival Liz Truss last month.
If it becomes law, it would see Britain tear up part of its deal with the EU and give hard-Brexiters including Lord Frost, Steve Baker and Mark Francois the clean break they have always wanted from Brussels.
Each of the five candidates has sought to burnish their Brexit credentials and maintain support from the right of the party but only three – Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak and Kemi Badenoch – voted for Brexit.
Only Truss, who voted remain but now presents herself as a hard-Brexiter, has mentioned the Northern Ireland protocol during the campaign.
Advertising his Brexit purity, Sunak released a slick video over the weekend reminding party members that he had “gone against the advice” of then prime minister David Cameron and supported Brexit in the 2016 referendum campaign.
Sources say that Sunak has expressed reticence on the protocol bill in the past because of the risk of triggering a trade war with the EU.
July 18, 2022 at 06:33PM Lisa O’Carroll and Jessica Elgot