Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt becomes bookies' favourite to become next prime minister amid collapsing support for Boris Johnson

THE MP for Portsmouth North Penny Mordaunt has taken the lead in the betting odds to replace Boris Johnson as PM – as she responds to the Westminster drama by saying she is hard at work ‘to keep things running’.

Thursday, 7th July 2022, 4:55 am

It comes as more than 15 ministers have resigned in the wake of the prime minister losing the support and accepting the resignations of former chancellor Rishi Sunak and former health secretary on Tuesday.

And a slew of cabinet members – including the home secretary Priti Patel and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – are reported to have told Mr Johnson to stand down.

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage has submitted a letter of no confidence in the leadership of Boris Johnson, saying he has fallen into 'disrepute' through a 'catalogue of recent events' - including the 'unforgivable mishandling' of the allegation against MP Chris Pincher.

Penny Mordaunt MP for Portsmouth North.

The collapse in support for Boris Johnson has sparked a flurry of speculation on who could be the next person to lead the Conservative Party and the country – with Portsmouth MP Penny Mordaunt becoming the favourite according to bookmakers.

Ms Mordaunt, who has represented the north of the city for more than 12 years, became 4-1 favourite to be next Tory leader and 5-1 to be next prime minister last night, according to analysis from the Racing Post.

Asked for her stance on prime minister Boris Johnson, the former defence secretary said: ‘While these serious events play out some of us do need to keep things running. That (is) what I am doing, and that is how I can best help.’

Conservative MPs across the area – including Fareham MP and Attorney General Suella Braverman and Havant MP Alan Mak – were all approached to clarifying their stance on the PM but failed to respond.

Boris Johnson has lost the confidence of former cabinet members Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak this week

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But the drama in Downing Street has cut through to the public outside of the Westminster bubble, according to Fareham Council Leader Sean Woodward.

He said: ‘I’m getting a lot of calls and emails. I had one distressed lady who emailed me and she called me on the phone. She’s devastated – she was saying ‘we love Boris, what can we do to help?’.

‘I have lived through a number of party leaders and the only one who ever invoked this sort of adoration (was) Margaret Thatcher.

Fareham Borough Council leader Sean Woodward Picture: Alex Shute

‘You need characters in politics but what has happened in the last 24 hours...that would take a great deal of explaining.’

The string of resignations in the wake of the PM’s handling of the Chris Pincher row has turned the government into a ‘horrible, unedifying spectacle’, according to the council leader.

He said: ‘It’s pretty shocking. For those resigning – and I’m sure there’s a number of motives – the general motive is the Chris Pincher thing, which I think was a game changer for a number of parliamentary colleagues.

‘You had the PM sending out his ministers to say one thing and then hours later saying the opposite.

‘I think that he’s probably refusing to resign. I imagine he’s had his cabinet colleagues say things to him, but he’s probably viewing that he had an incredible mandate from the voters.’

The long-standing politician deferred judgement on the prime minister’s position – but he said that governing at the national level was becoming ‘almost impossible’.

He said: ‘It’s probably, I’m afraid, one I’d pass the buck on. The position of the PM is down to MPs. Its them that need to sort it out.

‘I just think he has to think very carefully what is in the best interest of the government and most importantly the country he is trying to lead. And that is becoming almost impossible with this great string of resignations.

‘Soon it will be like a revolving door – as soon as one comes in, they go out.’

But Cllr Woodward was less circumspect about the prospect of Penny Mordaunt’s fortunes.

Commenting on her position as bookies’ favourite to replace Boris Johnson, he said: ‘She might well be, she’s very bright, very able, very capable. I have a lot of time for Penny.’

But he warned any potential MP jockeying to oust the PM: ‘History teaches us that those who wield the knife never wear the crown.’