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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 21:51 GMT
Mandelson resigns
Peter Mandelson (l) and Tony Blair
The resignation sparked angry clashes in the Commons
The career of Peter Mandelson at the highest political level appears to be over after his resignation from the cabinet for an unprecedented second time.

Mr Mandelson stepped down as Northern Ireland Secretary and was replaced by Scottish Secretary Dr John Reid, triggering a mini-reshuffle.

Mini-reshuffle
Northern Ireland Secretary: Dr John Reid, former Scottish secretary
Scottish Secretary: Helen Liddell, former energy minister
Energy Minister: Peter Hain, former foreign office minister
Foreign Office Minister: Brian Wilson, former Scotland office minister
Mr Mandelson admitted he had made misleading statements over the passport application of controversial Indian billionaire Srichand Hinduja but denied he had done anything wrong.

The resignation prompted furious Conservative condemnation, with Conservative leader William Hague calling Mr Blair's "career-long dependency" on Mr Mandelson "a monumental error of judgement".

But the prime minister called his friend's move "tragic" and paid tribute, saying: "I believe that he is a bigger man than many of his critics."

Mr Mandelson was called into 10 Downing Street on Wednesday morning to "establish the facts" of his involvement in the passport saga.

Two-time quitter

After talks lasting two hours he emerged to announce his resignation.

It is the second time Mr Blair's close political confidant has been forced to quit the cabinet in disgrace since Labour came to power in 1997.

Mr Mandelson had come under increasing pressure since the weekend following claims he pulled strings to help Mr Hinduja secure a UK passport after the tycoon pledged 1m in sponsorship for the Millennium Dome while Mr Mandelson was in charge of the project.

Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson announces his second resignation
In his resignation statement Mr Mandelson said: "I do not accept in any way that I have acted improperly in respect of any application for naturalisation as a British citizen.

"I do accept that when my office spoke to a Sunday newspaper at the weekend, I should have been clear that it was me personally, not my officials who spoke to a Home Office minister.

"As a result of that, wrong information was given to the House by the culture secretary and by the prime minister's spokesman to the press. I accept responsibility for that."

He insisted his "sole desire and motivation" since the weekend had been to emphasise he had not sought to influence the decision on naturalisation "in any way at all", and merely wanted to pass on a request for information.

Another factor in his decision, he went on, was the desire to lead "a more normal life" after the "constant media pressure and exposure that has dogged me for the last five or so years".

John Reid
Dr John Reid: Taking over from Mr Mandelson
After taking his final Northern Ireland questions in the Commons, Mr Mandelson sat impassively alongside Mr Blair as William Hague launched his blistering attack at prime minister's questions.

The Tory leader said Mr Blair's decision to reappoint his friend following his previous departure from the cabinet demonstrated "the arrogance with which the prime minister wields his power".

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, who criticised the tone of Mr Hague's comments, said Mr Mandelson had made the "right decision" and called for an improved ministerial code of conduct.

Earlier, Mr Blair told MPs that although he believed the passport application had been dealt with properly, former Treasury solicitor Sir Anthony Hammond QC had been asked to review the case.

Mr Mandelson was first forced to quit from the cabinet in 1998 after failing to disclose that he had secretly received a 373,000 loan from his then fellow minister Geoffrey Robinson to buy a house in London.

It has not been confirmed whether or not Mr Mandelson will stand at the next general election, although his election agent in his Hartlepool constituency insisted he would.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson
Resignation speech
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"He was brought down again by an inexplicable lie"
The BBC's John Pienaar
"Mixing with millionaires like the Hindujas has led to more trouble"
Peter Mandelson is at the centre of a row over passport applications

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24 Jan 01 | N Ireland
24 Jan 01 | N Ireland
24 Jan 01 | UK Politics
22 Jan 01 | South Asia
24 Jan 01 | UK Politics
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