May names replacement for minister ousted over secret Israel meetings

Penny Mordaunt joins the Cabinet after Priti Patel resigned in the wake of a series of undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials

epa06318434 British Member of Parliament Penny Mordaunt arrives at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, 09 November 2017. British Prime Minister Theresa May has appointed Penny Mordaunt  as the new  international development secretary after Priti Patel resigned on 08 November 2017 over her Israel meetings controversy.  EPA/ANDY RAIN
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British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday promoted a junior minister to replace ousted secretary Priti Patel, avoiding a major personnel shuffle and maintaining the delicate Brexit balance in her cabinet.

The Conservative leader named Penny Mordaunt, a minister in the welfare department and a strong supporter of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, as her new international development secretary.

On Wednesday evening, Ms Patel became the second minister to quit within a week, after a row over unauthorised meetings she had during a holiday to Israel in August, including with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ms Patel, who had harboured leadership aspirations, failed to tell officials in advance of the meetings and was accused of misleading the prime minister about the full extent of her contacts with Israeli politicians.

She returned home early from a trip to Uganda and handed in her notice shortly afterwards during a meeting at Downing Street with Mrs May.


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Ms Patel is a prominent Brexit supporter, and some Conservative MPs had pressed for a replacement that would maintain the political - and gender - balance.

Mordaunt had initially been tipped to replace Michael Fallon as defence secretary when he quit on November 1 following allegations of sexual harassment, but that job went to one of May's close aides, Gavin Williamson.

"The Queen has been pleased to approve the appointment of Penny Mordaunt MP as secretary of state for international development," a statement from Downing Street said.

Ms Mordaunt, a 44-year-old Royal Navy reservist, is the MP for the English naval town of Portsmouth, and served as a junior defence minister before becoming minister for disabled people last year.

Elected in 2010 after a career in business and media, including as head of foreign press for George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, Ms Mordaunt has cut a rather different path from many of her fellow MPs.

She took part in a celebrity television diving show in 2014, giving her appearance fee to a local swimming pool.

She also delivered a bizarre speech in the House of Commons in 2013 about Easter and poultry, reportedly a response to a bet by navy colleagues to use the word "cock" as many times as she could in parliament.

Prominent Brexit supporter and Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg had earlier called for a replacement for Patel who was enthusiastic about leaving the European Union.

"As long as it's somebody who has accepted that Brexit is happening and will support it properly... I don't think there will be a problem," he told the BBC.

But leading pro-European lawmaker Chuka Umunna, of the opposition Labour party, tweeted: "This is the same minister who falsely claimed Turkey was about to join the EU [during the referendum]. Words fail me."