Penny Mordaunt may replace Priti Patel as UK’s international development secretary

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 09, 2018

Penny Mordaunt

Priti Patel

Indian origin cabinet member resigned as UK minister over secret meetings in Israel

Penny Mordaunt, a former minister in the defence department and an outspoken supporter of Brexit, is expected to replace Priti Patel as international development secretary, according to reports in the British media, following the Indian-origin politician’s high-profile resignation late on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Theresa May has been under pressure to replace Patel, Britain’s first Indian-origin cabinet member and also a vocal member of the Leave campaign with another “Brexiteer,” in a cabinet divided over the issue. “It would be wrong to make any great changes to the balance of the cabinet,” former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC on Thursday morning. Mordaunt, MP for the port city of Portsmouth, was previously a minister for the Work and Pensions department.

The Prime Minister will be hoping that the expected appointment of Mordaunt will restore a degree of stability to her government, following last week’s resignation of Defence Minister Michael Fallon and the continued pressure facing Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson over incorrect remarks made about a British-Iranian citizen to a parliamentary committee.

On Monday, Patel had publicly apologised for failing to disclose 12 meetings with senior Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a “family holiday” to Israel in August.

After initially suggesting the FCO and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had been in the loop since the outset, she admitted they had been made aware of the meetings while the trip was underway.

While Downing Street initially supported her other revelations swiftly followed: both over her plans to fund Israeli army initiatives in the disputed Golan Heights, and over further meetings outside Israel.

Reports in the Jewish Chronicle, however, suggested that Patel had disclosed these meetings to Downing Street but was advised not to reveal details of them as they could embarrass the British Foreign Office: something Downing Street has strenuously denied.

Patel’s return to the UK from an official trip to Africa for her meeting in Downing Street on Wednesday, attracted close media attention, with the BBC tracking the progress of her motorcade back into central London by helicopter.

In her resignation statement, she apologised for her actions which fell “below the standards of transparency and openness” that she had been advocating.

“An enormous thank you to friends, colleagues, constituents & the public for the support & kindness you have shown me over the last few days,” she tweeted on Thursday.

Her resignation is, however, unlikely to end the story: Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson wrote to the Prime Minister on Wednesday evening, regarding claims that Patel had met with officials from the British Foreign Office. “The existence of such a meeting would call into question the official account of Patel’s behaviour and the purpose of the visit.”

Patel, MP for the Essex constituency of Witham, entered Parliament in 2010. Born in London, Patel was appointed diaspora champion for the British Indian community by former Prime Minister David Cameron as part of its effort to strengthen ties between the two countries, and to win over more of the British Gujarati and wider Indian community, which has traditionally voted Labour, to the Conservative Party. She has been a strong cheerleader of the Modi government, publicly praising a number of its policies including demonetisation.

She has continued to play a prominent role in the bilateral relationship, last year the British government described her as their “first foot” to India as she toured Ahmedabad, Kolkata and New Delhi. In March this year, she was awarded the Pravasi Bharitiya Samman award.

Last year, Patel courted controversy as a vocal Leave campaigner, telling sections of the Indian community that leaving the European Union presented an opportunity for Britain to ease immigration rules for non-EU citizens. “By voting to leave we can take back control of our immigration policies, save our curry houses and join the rest of the world,’ she told the London Evening Standard newspaper in May 2016.

She told BusinessLine that the UK-India bilateral relationship would benefit from Brexit, and that the EU had “held back” the economic development of India as they would not do a trade deal.

Aside from her stance on Brexit, Mordaunt appears to share an eagerness to engage on India-related issues with Patel. A former aid worker in Romania before entering Parliament, and a former director of a diabetes charity that did work in India, Mordaunt on her parliamentary website lists her countries of interest as including India and the US.

Published on November 09, 2017

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