The controversial meeting that shows it's time to torpedo Mordaunt

The controversial meeting that shows it's time to torpedo Mordaunt


DOMINIC LAWSON: The controversial meeting that shows it’s time to torpedo HMS Mordaunt

Sometimes it seems that Penny Mordaunt wants us to salute her. She has built her campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, on her affinity with the Armed Forces and her connections with the Royal Navy (she is an honorary captain).

Mordaunt introduced her launch speech by linking herself to the Falklands conflict (which took place when she was nine years old) and her campaign video has 13 references to the Armed Forces.

She declared that she ‘perhaps better than any other candidate’ understood the Government’s responsibility to support the Armed Services. This came as news to one of those other candidates, Tom Tugendhat, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he was wounded in battle.

As for the claim by her prominent backer, the Conservative MP George Freeman, that Mordaunt had ‘fought in the Navy’, that was simply untrue.


As a highly-decorated former Naval Officer told the Mail on Saturday: ‘She isn’t [currently] a trained or paid reservist, she’s never qualified or been commissioned. She’s been banging the naval drum for days, and enough is enough. How she has presented herself — and how she has allowed herself to be presented — has been deeply misleading.’

Penny Mordaunt (pictured last night on ITV) faced fresh questions over her judgment for meeting a controversial Muslim group – despite it being subject to a government boycott

There is another reason why members of the Royal Navy might regard Mordaunt’s candidacy, and its tone, with a high degree of scepticism, and that stems from a tweet that Mordaunt, then a minister in the Cabinet Office, put out on February 19 last year.

‘Great to have met with @ZaraMO1 today, to wish her every success and hear more about her plans,’ she tweeted. ‘Look forward to working with her and her team.’

ZaraMO1 is Zara Mohammed, and her ‘team’ is the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), of which she had been appointed Secretary General a few weeks earlier. But why should it be a problem that Mordaunt had tweeted enthusiastically about her meeting with Ms Mohammed?

Simply this: since 2009, it has been the policy of successive British governments to have no official contacts with the Muslim Council of Britain.

In March of that year, the deputy director-general of the MCB, Dr Daud Abdullah — along with 89 other ‘Muslim leaders’ across the world — signed the so-called Istanbul Declaration, which called on Muslims to attack any foreign navies which attempted to interdict the smuggling of weapons to Hamas (named a terrorist organisation by the British Government) as it fought against Israel.

It set out a series of ‘obligations’ to Muslims worldwide, one of which warned that ‘the closure of crossings [to Gaza], or the prevention of the entry of weapons through them, should be regarded as high treason in the Islamic Nation, and clear support for the Zionist enemy’.

Penny Mordaunt, pictured, is said to not be a trained or paid Naval reservist, and has never qualified or been commissioned

Miss Mordaunt tweeted in February last year that it was ‘great’ to have met the MCB’s first female secretary-general, Zara Mohammed, and said she was ‘looking forward to working with her’

At the time, the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, had offered Royal Navy resources to stop weapons being smuggled in to Hamas’s fighters. But the declaration signed by the deputy director general of the MCB proclaimed that there was an obligation for ‘the Islamic Nation to regard the sending of foreign warships into Muslim waters, claiming to control the borders and prevent the smuggling of arms to Gaza, as a declaration of war, a new occupation, sinful aggression’.

It concluded that ‘this must be rejected and fought by all means and ways’.

Given this was a call to Muslims in this country (as well as worldwide) to attack any Royal Navy vessels interdicting the arms supply to Hamas, it was not surprising that the Labour government announced that it would break off all engagement with the MCB.

Probably it would not have done so if the organisation had apologised for Dr Abdullah’s signing of the Istanbul Declaration, or disowned him. The MCB refused, eventually claiming that its deputy director-general had signed it in ‘a personal capacity’.

But the Brown administration pointed out that the only reason Dr Abdullah’s signature had value to Hamas was because of his being a leading figure in the body which claimed to represent all British Muslims (it doesn’t, but that is another matter).


The MCB has never backed down on this, which helps explain why every government since has observed the policy of ‘zero official engagement’.

So you will not be surprised to discover that Downing Street was furious when it learnt of Penny Mordaunt’s meeting with the MCB’s new chief, and her publicisation of it. No 10 put out a statement declaring: ‘The UK Government has a longstanding policy of not engaging with the MCB, and this has not changed.’

I have since established, having spoken to an official over the weekend, that No 10 asked Mordaunt to take her tweet down. She refused — even after Downing Street reminded her that our embargo stemmed from a threat to the Royal Navy.

Publicly, her office claimed that she had not met the MCB chief in her capacity as a minister but as ‘a constituency MP’. Only, the thing is that the MCB head office is in London and Ms Mohammed lives in Scotland — which is rather a long way from Mordaunt’s Portsmouth constituency. Of course, the MCB made play of the minister’s meeting with its chief, retweeting Mordaunt’s proclamation of her meeting and welcome to Ms Mohammed.

Conservative MP and Britain’s Minister of State for Trade Policy, Penny Mordaunt, arrives at the BBC in central London yesterday

As one British official said to me when I raised this with him yesterday: ‘I wonder how Penny Mordaunt’s Royal Navy colleagues felt when she broke the agreement not to meet representatives of an organisation whose deputy director-general called for attacks on their vessels, which might have slaughtered some of our sailors.’

I doubt Mordaunt’s motive at the time was to change government policy. It is much more likely that she was enthused by the idea of a woman taking the helm of the MCB.

That would — sort of — fit in with the view, expressed in her book Greater: Britain After The Storm, that ‘the problem is that most of our leaders are drawn from a narrow background’ which Mordaunt defined as: ‘Male … heterosexual, white, Christian, Western oriented’.

Her campaign for the leadership of the Tory Party does not sound that note — wisely, given the nature of the electors — but makes a great thing of leadership being ‘more about the ship than the captain’ and extolling ‘teamwork’.


What sort of a team player was Mordaunt in, first of all, ignoring the long agreed policy of not engaging with the MCB, and then refusing the call from the office of the captain of the team (Boris Johnson) to remove that self-promoting tweet about her meeting with Ms Mohammed?

It is actually possible that Mordaunt was unaware of this official embargo, well-established though it is and even though, as a former secretary of state for defence — and especially as a Royal Navy reservist — it would seem incredible that she didn’t know.

The truth is Penny Mordaunt is someone with an extraordinarily weak grasp of policy or detail. This is something that has recently been pointed out by a number of her former ministerial colleagues.

That trait became painfully evident in an interview she gave last week to the Daily Telegraph. She has promised two big tax cuts — halving VAT on fuel and raising the great majority of personal tax thresholds by the rate of inflation.

So, she was asked (obviously): ‘How much will this cost?’ Mordaunt didn’t have a clue and, after floundering for an answer, asked an aide ‘to provide [the figure] later’.

She was then questioned about her pledge to ‘pioneer sound money, with a key fiscal rule to ensure that debt as a percentage of GDP falls over time’.

Naturally, the interviewer asked if she could say what the national debt is as a percentage of GDP now, and what she wants it to fall to. Again, not a Scooby Doo (‘I have not got it in front of me’).

It is terrifying that such a lightweight last week became the bookies’ favourite to win the Conservative leadership. I’m sure many in the Armed Forces share that sentiment, despite Penny Mordaunt’s inflated claims to be their candidate.

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