British minister Penny Mordaunt announces bid to be next UK PM

British Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt speaks on stage during the annual Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Britain, October 2, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON, Oct 21 (Reuters) - British minister Penny Mordaunt on Friday launched her bid to replace Liz Truss as prime minister, becoming the first Conservative lawmaker to formally announce they are running.

Mordaunt, 49, has navigated the tenures of the four prime ministers she has served under, keeping her distance from Boris Johnson's scandal-ridden time in power and staying in cabinet under Theresa May to make her support for Brexit felt.

This is the second time she is running for the top job, after just missing out on the final two in the contest to become the leader of the ruling Conservative Party earlier this year. That race saw Truss defeat former finance minister Rishi Sunak.

"I’m running to be the leader of the Conservative Party and your Prime Minister - to unite our country, deliver our pledges and win the next GE (General Election)," Mordaunt said on Twitter.

"I’ve been encouraged by support from colleagues who want a fresh start, a united party and leadership in the national interest."

Bookmakers place Mordaunt third, behind Sunak and Johnson, who are also expected to enter the race to succeed Truss.

Those who want to replace her must secure 100 nominations from Conservative lawmakers by Monday to run in a contest which the party hopes will reset its ailing fortunes.

A Reuters tally of Conservative lawmakers who have made public declarations of support so far puts Sunak on 60 backers, Johnson on 30 and Mordaunt on 16.

Under Truss, she was appointed leader of the House of Commons, a role which also by chance gave her a higher profile job as "Lord President of the Privy Council" - meaning she presided over the formal announcement of Queen Elizabeth's death and the proclamation of the new King Charles.

Largely unknown outside Westminster prior to taking an early opinion poll lead among Conservative Party members earlier this year, some of the public may have first seen Mordaunt on the reality TV show Splash! in 2014, where celebrities learnt to dive. She performed a belly flop.

She joined May's cabinet in 2017 as international development minister but a stint as defence secretary lasted just 85 days, when she was sacked by Johnson, reportedly for backing his rival Jeremy Hunt in the leadership campaign.

Johnson eventually brought Mordaunt back into government in February 2020.

As leader of the House of Commons, a role charged with setting out the government business, her no-nonsense attitude gained her admirers.

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, Andrew MacAskill and Farouq Suleiman

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