An official inquiry has been launched into the alleged leak of information designed to undermine Penny Mordaunt’s campaign to become prime minister.
Cabinet secretary Simon Case announced the probe after receiving a complaint over the release of internal government communications relating to Ms Mordaunt’s position on the fraught issue of trans rights.
In a letter to Mordaunt supporter David Davis, Mr Case said that the unauthorised released of government information to the media was “clearly inappropriate”.
“I have been very clear in writing with the civil service that it is paramount that public resources are not used to support leadership campaigns,” he said.
“In light of these facts and the concerns you raise, I can confirm that I have launched a leak investigation into theis matter.”.
Mr Case said that the probe “will be completed as quickly as possible given the importance of the subject”.
The Mordaunt camp responded with fury to the publication in the Sunday Times of Government Equalities Office documents dating back to her time as equalities minister, which opponents claimed contradicted her assertion that she had always opposed self-identification for trans people.
Ms Mordaunt dismissed the claim as a “toxic” smear. And Mr Davis wrote to Mr Case complaining that the leak was “selective, distortive and misleading” and pointing the finger of blame at Ms Mordaunt’s leadership rival Liz Truss, who is currently equalities minister as well as foreign secretary.
“I am concerned that these misleading leaks from government departments, currently run by those seeking election to the Conservative leadership, have compromised the [civil service] code,” Davis said. “It cannot be right that official resources and papers are leaked in order to influence a party-political election, especially if they give a distorted impression of the facts.”
The announcement of the leak inquiry may have come too late to assist Ms Mordaunt in her bid to get her name onto the ballot paper for the Tory members’ vote to choose a successor to Boris Johnson as prime minister. It came as Tory MPs cast their ballots in the fifth and last round of voting in Westminster to whittle contenders down to a shortlist of two.
The trade minister is facing a tough struggle to see off a late surge from Ms Truss, who is widely expected to join former chancellor Rishi Sunak in the final run-off.