Tory leadership race: Penny Mordaunt throws support behind Liz Truss in surprise endorsement of former rival

The international trade minister made a surprise return to the Tory leadership contest

Penny Mordaunt has announced her support for her former Tory leadership rival Liz Truss as the race to replace Boris Johnson continues.

The international trade minister called the Foreign Secretary the “hope candidate” during the Conservative Party hustings event in Exeter.

This comes after Ms Mordaunt finished just eight votes behind Ms Truss in the final round of voting amongst MPs, narrowly missing out on the chance to go head-to-head with Rishi Sunak in the battle to become the UK’s next Prime Minister.

Addressing the audience at the event in Exeter, Ms Mordaunt said: “I’ve seen enough to know who the person I’m going to put my faith in is. And that is Liz Truss.”

Penny Mordaunt announced her support for her former rival Liz Truss as the Tory leadership race continues

She cited the Foreign Secretary’s “graft,” “authenticity,” “determination,” “ambition for this country,” “consistency,” and “sense of duty” as some of the reasons for her support.

The Portsmouth North MP added: “She knows what she believes in.

“[She] stand[s] up against tyranny and fight[s] for freedom. That’s what our country stands for and that’s why I know we can win.”

A little over a fortnight earlier, Ms Truss’ allies denied involvement in a “black ops” campaign against Ms Mordaunt.

What else happened at the hustings event?

The hustings event in Exeter was a calmer affair than the head-to-head television debates, with both candidates appearing separately on stage to face questions.

Mr Sunak criticised his opponent’s economic plans, saying to applause: “I want to reform the corporate tax system.

“Liz Truss’s policies on corporate taxation are exactly the failed Treasury orthodoxy of the last 10 years, which hasn’t worked. I want to change it and grow the economy.”

Meanwhile, Ms Truss promised a “war on Whitehall waste”, claiming if she ends up in Number 10 she would cut Civil Service time off, end national pay deals and scrap jobs aimed at increasing inclusion and diversity in the public sector.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak appeared at a hustings event in Exeter

The South West Norfolk MP claimed her plans would save £11 billion and tackle left-wing “groupthink” within the Civil Service, although the proposals received a furious response from unions.

The former chancellor outlined a greater role for technology in reforming the NHS, explaining: “Right now we’ve got this massive problem with the backlogs.

“As they’ve already done in some trusts, we can use software automation and AI to massively rip through all of the triaging and processing of them and clear up the lists.”

However, although the event was more devoid than usual of blue-on-blue attacks, Ms Truss did criticise “attention seeker” Nicola Sturgeon.

She said of Scotland’s First Minister: “I think the best thing to do with Nicola Sturgeon is ignore her.”

What are the next stages in the Tory leadership contest?

The Tory leadership candidates are currently participating in nationwide hustings events, in which they are appealing directly to Conservative voters in an attempt to garner support.

Ms Truss and Mr Sunak have already appeared in Leeds and Exeter, and the next takes place on Wednesday (3 August) in Cardiff.

At the same time, postal ballots have started arriving on the doormats of Tory voters.

Those eligible to vote in the leadership contest can make their decision any time between now and 5pm on 2 September, when the voting is due to close.

Penny Mordaunt finished third in the Tory leadership race

The outcome will be announced on 5 September, and the UK will have a new Prime Minister.

Who is ahead in the polls?

Ms Truss has mostly been the favourite to become the next Prime Minister amongst Conservative Party voters.

A recent poll however suggests the Foreign Secretary is only five percentage points ahead of the former chancellor in the race to succeed Mr Johnson.

The survey, which concluded early last week, has support for Ms Truss on 48 per cent compared with 43 per cent for Mr Sunak, with 9 percent of those questioned undecided.

This is in juxtaposition with a YouGov poll taken in July, which found that Ms Truss would beat Mr Sunak 62% to 38% - which means opinion may  be changing.