Britain's first female defence minister has navy experience

Ms Penny Mordaunt making her first public appearance yesterday as the new UK defence secretary.
Ms Penny Mordaunt making her first public appearance yesterday as the new UK defence secretary.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Best-known for sporting a swimsuit on television and for her strident support for Brexit, Ms Penny Mordaunt made her public debut yesterday as Britain's first female defence secretary.

The 46-year-old's appointment this week continues a rapid rise through the ranks that has fuelled speculation that she might run for Prime Minister Theresa May's job when the time comes.

But for now, she says she is "delighted" to take on a role for which she has rare experience and which she is said to have been long angling for. Ms Mordaunt was promoted from international development secretary on Wednesday after Mr Gavin Williamson was summarily sacked as defence secretary following an inquiry into a leak from the government's National Security Council.

She took her place alongside military chiefs and Prince William at a ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London yesterday marking 50 years of Britain's at-sea nuclear deterrent.

Unlike many Cabinet ministers, Ms Mordaunt has experience in her brief: she is a Royal Navy reservist and has served as a junior defence minister. Her father was a paratrooper, who reportedly named her after a World War II cruiser, HMS Penelope, and she also represents the naval city of Portsmouth.

Most voters know Ms Mordaunt for her strong support for Brexit in the 2016 referendum campaign.

Her continued enthusiasm for leaving the bloc has prompted reports she could quit the government over Mrs May's handling of Brexit, but has made her popular with grassroots members of the Conservative Party.

She first came to national prominence in 2014 when she took part in celebrity television diving show Splash!, where she donated some of her appearance fees to service charities.

Footage of Ms Mordaunt hitting the water in a painful-looking belly flop has been widely shared on social media since her appointment.

Prior to being elected to Parliament in 2010, Ms Mordaunt had a career in media, which included a stint as head of foreign press for Mr George W. Bush's 2000 US presidential campaign.

On assuming the post, she said: "It is an honour and privilege to work with the best armed forces and defence civilians in the world."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2019, with the headline 'Britain's first female defence minister has navy experience'. Print Edition | Subscribe