FRESH civil war erupted at the Department of Trade today over Penny Mordaunt’s plan to announce a new post-Brexit deal in the middle of the Tory leadership race.
The Trade minister has faced days of claims she has shirked her responsibilities and even dodged an official trip to Indiana so she could promote her new book to luvvies at the Hay literary festival.
But now insiders say Ms Mordaunt is insisting that Wednesday’s announcement of a new minor trading accord with North Carolina goes ahead — despite concern raised by officials who say it should be delayed until after Conservative Party leadership votes.
Mordaunt is locked in a three way battle for second place ahead the final two rounds of MPs voting over who will succeed Boris Johnson.
One official described the situation as “a complete systems failure” if the announcement is allowed to go ahead at the height of the political drama.
They added: “Trying to take credit for the North Carolina deal in the middle of the race is totally inappropriate. Not least because she could not be a—-d to go sign the deal with Indiana in May.”
Another source added: “Penny is trying to neutralise the shirking minister stuff and its cutting up rough in the department.”
But Penny's spokesman hit back: "Even in these busy times, Penny has been focused on ensuring that we take advantage of the benefits of Brexit by securing a trade deal with North Carolina and other US States, which will boost, GDP, growth and jobs.
"The important work of Government must continue, and Penny will continue to lead the way in ensuring the UK secures state level deals with the US."
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The row is not the first time bad blood in the Department of Trade has erupted during the leadership election.
Trade Secretary Anne Marie Trevelyan yesterday accused Mordaunt of ignoring her ministerial responsibilities so she could secretly plot her own leadership campaign to succeed Boris Johnson.
In a savage attack on her own junior minister, she claimed Mordaunt had been missing in action and had often left "others to pick up the pieces".
In scathing assessment, she slammed her for "not being available" because she was busy plotting to take over from the PM.
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Ms Trevelyan told LBC as she twisted the knife in: "Understandably, perhaps now it's clear, Penny has, for the last few months, spent some of her time focused on preparing her leadership campaign."
And she swiped: "There have been a number of times when she hasn't been available, which would have been useful, and other ministers have picked up the pieces."
She pointedly dodged questions on whether Ms Mordaunt was strong on the details, and would only say "we all do our job in different ways".
Insiders at the Department for International Trade say the pair have long had a strained relationship – with both sides struggling to work together for months.
Ms Mordaunt has been accused of shunning international trips to focus on promoting her new book instead – including a trip last month to sign a similar deal with Indiana.
Instead Ms Morduant was spotted at the Hay Festival arriving by helicopter.
And she ruffled feathers for refusing to back Boris Johnson publicly during an onslaught of attacks, before refusing to quit as she rang around MPs to shore up her support.
Last night Ms Mordaunt's allies hit back and insisted she had always put in the hours.
Harriett Baldwin MP said: "Having worked with Penny Mordaunt for a number of years, I can confirm this is not true. She is one of the most hardworking ministers and constituency MPs I know."
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