WATCH: Major boost for Jeremy Hunt as Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt backs him to be next Tory leader
Penny Mordaunt has announced that she is supporting Jeremy Hunt in his bid to become the next Tory leader and Prime Minister.
The Defence Secretary, who had considered putting herself forward for the top job, became the second Cabinet minister to throw their weight behind Mr Hunt, after Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd also said she was backing him.
The endorsement marks a major boost for the Foreign Secretary ahead of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove launching their campaigns, with Ms Mordaunt the most senior Cabinet minister to have backed leaving the EU in 2016.
Ms Mordaunt, who was unveiled at the launch of Mr Hunt's leadership campaign, said she “trusted” him on Brexit, having worked alongside him in Cabinet.
“It’s true he has credibility from all sides but he also took a side,” she said.
“He fought for a deal but he also knew that we have to leave no-deal on the table to secure a good deal.”
She added: "The next leader of the Conservative Party has one hell of a shift - they have to deliver Brexit, swiftly and well, restore faith in Cabinet, Parliament, in government and our politics, grip the challenges of our times."
Ms Mordaunt said Mr Hunt had “the experience, the values, and a plan to deliver this”.
Mr Hunt, meanwhile, suggested he was unwilling to match Mr Johnson's commitment to taking the UK out of the EU by 31 October regardless of whether a deal had been agreed.
He said that MPs would not sign off a no-deal exit from the bloc, prompting a general election that the Conservatives would “lose badly”, given they had not delivered Brexit.
Citing the recent Tory defeats at the hands of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party at the EU elections and Labour at the Peterborough by-election, he said: "If we fight an election before delivering Brexit, we will be annihilated.
“Squeezed by the Brexit Party on the right and the Lib Dems on the left we simply allow Labour through the middle.
“And if that happened nationally it would be the end of Brexit. Because whatever else a Labour government did - and I worry about all of it - it would never deliver Brexit.
“So we need to get real. We are facing a constitutional crisis. Our new Prime Minister will still preside over a hung Parliament."