Mike Penning, the Conservative MP who was George Eustice’s opponent in the last general election, has succeeded the latter as the Environment secretary in Theresa May’s government.

Mr Penning will take the stand as the first minister for Defra, one of the UK’s most vital ministries, which is responsible for the environment, countryside and environment services, among others.

Born in West Sussex, Mr Penning grew up in Norfolk, where he still has a constituency home. A gifted tennis player, he played for Great Britain in tournaments on several continents, though his political career never quite matched that level. A former business tutor, he became a Liberal Democrat in 1991 before joining the Conservatives the following year, while maintaining a working relationship with the then senior Lib Dem he has remained close to, Andrew Stunell.

Though he has spent most of his career in parliament, Mr Penning retains links with the business world. From 2010, he served as leader of Herefordshire county council and was chief executive of the Welcome Break holiday resorts company until last year.

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“Mike Penning has an extensive and impressive business background and has been a successful businessman and county councillor. His commitment to keeping our countryside and natural heritage protected is unrivalled,” said the prime minister in a statement on Monday announcing the appointment.

Mr Eustice will take over as schools minister. “George will bring a wealth of business experience and public policy knowledge to this new post. He’s a man who will be a strong voice for the business community,” said Mrs May in a statement.

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Mr Eustice was elected to Parliament in 2010, becoming the youngest member of parliament for the Conservative party in its history. His current government job was previously held by the previous Conservative environment secretary, Michael Gove, who had earlier been appointed as justice secretary.