Truss targets Mordaunt with pledge to raise UK defence spending

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The Guardian

Liz Truss will make an urgent attempt to overtake her main rival, Penny Mordaunt, in the Conservative leadership race with a pledge to raise defence spending and a vow to look again at the size of the UK armed forces.

The foreign secretary is facing an uphill battle to join Rishi Sunak in the final two of the contest, as well as an insurgent campaign by the fourth-placed Kemi Badenoch, who picked up more supporters than Truss at the last round of voting.

Mordaunt remains in second place but her numbers stalled on Monday night, her vote reduced by one, giving rise to hope in camp Truss that it can overtake her, especially if Badenoch is forced to leave the race on Tuesday night and her supporters back Truss.

In an announcement on Tuesday morning, Truss said she would raise defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2030 amid the increased threat from Russia and China.

She said she would make the UK “the most capable force in Europe” and that the new cash would mean accelerating the delivery of cutting-edge technologies.

Truss said she would update the 2021 Integrated Review, with a renewed focus on China and Russia, as well as a non-specific commitment to look again at the shape and size of our armed forces.

Announcing the pledge for new defence spending, Truss said: “We live in an increasingly dangerous world where the threat level is higher than a decade ago, and we need a stronger deterrent to face down those threats and ensure Britain leads on the global stage. Ultimately that requires more resources. My number one priority is keeping this country safe and people can trust me to do that.

“Britain and the free world face a defining moment. We need a prime minister capable of leading internationally, who can also drive the economic growth we need here at home. I am the candidate best placed to do that.”

Rival leadership bids will on Tuesday court the 30 MPs who backed Tom Tugendhat, who left the race on Monday evening. Tugendhat himself has not declared who he will support but most of his MPs are likely to fall behind Sunak or Mordaunt.

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Three candidates praised Tugendhat explicitly on Monday night. Mordaunt said he was “a friend and colleague who I’ve admired for years, I know that we are both committed to a clean start for our party and I believe he is one of the strongest assets on the Conservative green benches. It was an honour to stand alongside him in this contest.”

Truss said Tugendhat “ran a campaign that he can be very proud of and he has shown the depth of quality in the Conservative party”. Badenoch also tweeted on Monday that Tugendhat would be an “asset” to any future Conservative government.

Sunak will launch a crime policy blitz on Tuesday pledging to introduce a new offence for belonging to or facilitating abuse by grooming gangs, as well as a new offence for taking “downblousing” pictures down women’s tops.

He will also propose making it an aggravating factor in sentencing if criminals refuse to appear in court and review sentence guidelines for crimes against women and girls.

July 19, 2022 at 02:09PM Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

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