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Penny Mordaunt choice lays May’s powerlessness bare

by Luke Lythgoe | 09.11.2017

Penny Mordaunt’s appointment as international development secretary is another clear sign that powerless Theresa May has become the slave to her party’s Brexit feud.

A quick Google search reveals Mordaunt is most famous for her appearance on ITV show Splash! and for slipping the word “cock” into a parliamentary speech.

Her biggest political story came during the referendum, when she tweeted during a David Cameron TV debate that the UK had no veto over Turkey joining the EU. This is categorically untrue.

Mordaunt, then armed forces minister and campaigning for Vote Leave, persisted with her argument to the point Cameron told ITV’s Robert Peston the claim was “absolutely wrong”. Such a loose grasp of foreign policy basics – or worse, the willingness to distort them – should have discounted her from the international development role.

But May is so trapped in her delicate Brexit balancing act that she had little choice about whom to appoint to replace Priti Patel: Brexiters demanded an MP “enthusiastic about Brexit”; the current climate of sleaze in Westminster suggested it should be another woman; and she’d need somebody who was at least a minister of state. The only MP currently in government who fitted the bill was Mordaunt.

There were other, more suitable options, such as Patel’s experienced deputy Alistair Burt – a once-vocal Remainer. But May has once again chosen party politics over ministerial appropriateness. What a way to run a country.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon