Tom Tugendhat highlights back story in military in pitch for top job

‘I’m used to friendly fire,’ he said, recounting a near-death experience in Iraq.

10 July 2022

Conservative backbencher Tom Tugendhat has pointed to his experience in the military and special forces while selling himself as the country’s next prime minister.

“I’m used to friendly fire,” the MP for Tonbridge and Malling said, recounting a near-death experience in Iraq in which a British helicopter mistakenly fired on him.

“We were in a very, very small group. We had been fighting a nine, ten-hour running battle. I was shot through the chin and the top of the chest, but that hit the body armour so it was OK,” he told The Sunday Times.

His special forces unit called in a helicopter for evacuation, but when it arrived it mistook them for the enemy. He said if it was not for the gunner’s bad aim, he would have been killed.

The 49-year-old chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee had made clear his intention to run if Boris Johnson was deposed in January, making him the earliest public contender for the job.

He restated his intention on Friday, writing in The Daily Telegraph: “I have served before, in the military, and now in Parliament. Now I hope to answer the call once again as prime minister.”

A Remainer in 2016, Mr Tugendhat has been a trenchant critic of Mr Johnson, a stance that would appear to have cost him any chance of ministerial preferment under the current leadership.

Ulster Unionist Party conference
Tom Tugendhat (Brian Lawless/PA)

But he points to the presence of Brexit party and Leave figures on his team as assurance for Brexiteers and, like other contenders, says he would keep the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

Addressing the fact he has never been a minister, Mr Tugendhat says four years he spent setting up the national security council in Afghanistan qualifies him.

His first Cabinet-level supporter, Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, told the paper Mr Tugendhat was willing to put himself “in the line of fire, politically”.

“Tom has this extraordinary set of characteristics. He’s clever, he’s charming, he’s quick-witted, and he’s absolutely passionate about his country,” she said.

“He has the ability to explain. He’s a conciliator with a knife in his pocket. If he has to fight, he will fight for what he wants. That’s what we need.”

On policy, Tugendhat said he would reverse the national insurance hike – a move also promised by former health secretary Sajid Javid.

Mr Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Nadhim Zahawi, Grant Shapps, Rishi Sunak, Attorney General Suella Braverman, ex-minister Kemi Badenoch, and trade minister Penny Mordaunt have all also launched campaigns for the premiership.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is widely expected to stand.

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