Penny Mordaunt: new approach needed to keep UK safe

Pledges to work with France on migrant routes in the Med and North Libya

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Conservative front runner Penny Mordaunt has vowed to make defence the “first duty” of government and pledged to prioritise migration issues if she reaches No10.

After surging ahead of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in the first round of voting by Tory MPs, Ms Mordaunt said she would meet some of the UK's toughest security challenges head on. This includes working in a new way with France on the surge in illegal migration across the English Channel.

"I’ve spent a long time in the Mediterranean mapping migrant routes in the Med and North Libya ― we should be doing more to work on what would be in France's interest in regards to their southern border," she said.

"The rules governing all of this are completely unfit for the world we live in today ― we need a new diplomatic narrative."

Polls show the former defence secretary as the top choice among Conservative party members and she placed a strong second to Rishi Sunak in the first round of voting on Wednesday, putting her on the front pages as the candidate with momentum in the six strong field.

Ms Mordaunt promised to honour the UK’s Nato commitment of spending 2.5. per cent of GDP on defence by 2030, saying Britain needs to “hold fast” to the nation’s shared values of “strength, fairness and decency, [and] a willingness to stand up for what is right”.

“The defence of the realm is the first duty of any government," she wrote in the Mail newspaper. “We will stand with Nato in defence of our common values and we will not flinch from the hard graft and putting boots on the ground on the alliance’s borders.”

Former British government minister Penny Mordaunt at the Cinnamon Club to launch her campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party in London, July 13, 2022.  EPA

Ms Mordaunt said she would hold firm to the UK’s position on the war in Ukraine, saying Russia “must lose the war”.

“We must hold our position in Ukraine. There cannot be any territory ceded to Russia,” she said.

“Although that will be difficult, we have to be honest with our people that we need to do that for our own safety and security.”

Ms Mordaunt also vowed to create a National Strategy Council to look at the challenges and opportunities facing the UK in the long term, as well as a “civil defence force” of qualified volunteers to be brought in to help in major events such as flooding.

“I’m incredibly proud of our armed forces,” Ms Mordaunt said. “I’ve been a member of our armed forces and I’m still pleased to be serving them as an honorary officer. I know perhaps better than any other candidate that it is our first duty to this country to defend them.

“People can be confident that this job is safe in my hands.”

However former Brexit minister Lord Frost has launched a scathing attack on Ms Mordaunt on Thursday, saying she was not up to the job when she was his deputy in talks with the EU.

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

He said he has “grave reservations” about whether Ms Mordaunt – who is currently the international trade minister – is now fit to be the next prime minister.

He told TalkTV: “I would not feel able to serve in a ministerial team under Penny Mordaunt. That’s how strongly I feel about that. I felt I had to make that clear today. MPs are voting today and I think they need to know the facts.

“The party has made wrong choices in recent years and I want to make sure we make the right one this time, so I had to make my views clear.”

His onslaught came after Ms Mordaunt took second place in the first round of voting by MPs, putting her in a prime position to make it through to the final ballot of party members.

Updated: July 14, 2022, 12:58 PM