Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Penny Mordaunt: Britain’s new defence secretary with navy experience

Mordaunt, taking over after Gavin Williamson was sacked on Wednesday, is the first woman appointed to the position

Britain's new Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt is seen outside of Downing Street in London. REUTERS
Britain's new Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt is seen outside of Downing Street in London. REUTERS

After the abrupt sacking of British defence secretary Gavin Williamson earlier on Wednesday, Penny Mordaunt, former Secretary of State for International Development, quickly took the helm.

An investigation into a leak from a National Security Council meeting about Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network suggested Mr Williamson's department was responsible and he was told to leave.

Ms Mordaunt will be the first woman to assume the post and will continue to serve as Minister for Women and Equalities.

She said she was "delighted to be back at the Ministry of Defence" and described the appointment as "an honour and privilege".

Ms Mordaunt’s experience in the area is not just from serving as a minister of state for the armed forces in David Cameron’s government. She is also a Royal Navy reservist.

The daughter of a paratrooper who later became a teacher, she is an acting sub-lieutenant of the HMS King Alfred based in Portsmouth.

Ms Mordaunt, a Brexiteer, began her political career as a Conservative candidate for Portsmouth North in November 2003, but she lost to Labour candidate Sarah McCarthy-Fry.

In a September 2006 post on website Conservative Home, she proposed standing for Mayor of London, commuting from Portsmouth, but was later criticised for not focusing enough on her constituency.

Ms Mordaunt was not elected as an MP until 2010. She was re-elected in 2015 and 2017.

Outside of Westminster, she is probably most famous for her appearance on the TV show Splash in 2014, where she joined celebrities who were trained in diving by Olympic swimmer Tom Daley.

As far as defence issues are concerned, Ms Mordaunt voted against an investigation into whether lies had been told in the lead-up to Britain's involvement in the Iraq war.

She has also consistently voted for replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system and for action against ISIS.

In April, Ms Mordaunt told British newspaper CityAM that a long Brexit delay would be unacceptable to the public and to business.

“For me, the critical thing is that we leave, we do it swiftly, we don’t get locked in to fighting European elections,” she said.

“Brexit is something we have to do to arrive at where the public wanted to be, which is to have more control over laws, borders, money and trade, and having an independent trade policy.”

Britain's new international development minister

Rory Stewart, the Minister of State for Prisons from January 2018, has taken Ms Mordaunt’s job as Secretary of State for International Development.

Mr Stewart, 46, was regarded by many as an obvious choice because of his experience in Parliament and loyalty to British Prime Minister Theresa May.

As a justice minister, Mr Stewart won praise from Downing Street for his support of Mrs May’s Brexit deal.

He has previous experience as a Minister for Development between July 2016 and January 2018.

Before becoming an MP in 2010, Mr Stewart worked at the Foreign Office, then as a military aide and the deputy governor of two southern provinces in Iraq.

He is a well-known author, having written several books on Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal. He is also known for tutoring the future king, Prince William.

Like other prominent Tory MPs including David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson, Mr Stewart is a former student of Eton College, which charges nearly £13,000 a term.

Updated: May 2, 2019 10:14 PM

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