Priti Patel: Disgraced former minister who previously supported death penalty named home secretary by Boris Johnson

Right-wing Leave campaigner was accused of running her own foreign policy in the Middle East when minister

Harry Cockburn
Thursday 25 July 2019 10:40
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Priti Patel, who was forced to resign from Theresa May’s government after revelations she had conducted secret meetings with the Israeli government, has been brought back into the Cabinet by new prime minister Boris Johnson.

Ms Patel, an ardent Leave campaigner will serve as home secretary, replacing Sajid Javid, who in turn will become Chancellor.

Supporters of Mr Johnson reportedly said he would appoint a “record number” of ethnic minority politicians and boost the number of women attending as full members of the Cabinet.

But Ms Patel’s promotion will raise eyebrows due to the manner of her departure from government less than two years ago, which involved a plan to funnel UK foreign aid money to the Israeli army, while she was international development secretary.

Accused of effectively running her own foreign policy in the Middle East she was forced to fly back early from an African trip for her dismissal in November 2017.

This was gleefully tracked by some members of the public.

An MP for almost a decade, Ms Patel was elected to Parliament in 2010 for the constituency of Witham in Essex. She was just 38.

She achieved ministerial rank just four years later as exchequer secretary to the Treasury.

Following David Cameron’s 2015 general election victory, she was promoted to employment minister.

Ahead of the Brexit referendum, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned Brexit could cost £100bn and 1 million jobs, but Ms Patel was nonetheless a vocal supporter of the Leave campaign.A

As the battle lines were drawn, Ms Patel helped launch the Women For Britain campaign for women who wanted to leave the bloc. At the group’s launch party, she compared their efforts with those of Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes.

Emmeline’s great-granddaughter, Helen Pankhurst, criticised her for the remarks.

When she was later appointed as international development secretary, aid groups expressed their concerns.

They recalled that she had previously called for her new ministry to be replaced by a Department for International Trade and Development, as opposed to the Department for International Development.

She said it should have a greater focus on boosting UK business opportunities in the developing world.

Ms Patel allegedly did become unpopular with civil servants at DFID, in part due to her hardline stance on immigration, blaming it for NHS waiting lists and growing school class sizes.

But before her downfall, she had also been critical of DFID funds going to support the Palestinian territories via United Nations agencies and the Palestinian Authority.

As a result of her concerns, in October 2016 she ordered a review of the funding procedure, temporarily freezing approximately a third of Britain’s aid to the Palestinians, before she later said she had altered the allocation of funds so they went “solely to vital health and education services”.

The move was welcomed by groups, including the Jewish Leadership Council and the Zionist Federation.

The following year, it emerged Ms Patel had been scheduling meetings while on a “private holiday” with Israel without officially informing the Foreign Office.

According to reports at the time, Ms Patel had subsequently recommended international aid money should be sent to field hospitals run by the Israeli army in the Golan Heights.

Ms Patel also famously called for the return of capital punishment as a “deterrent”. In a 2011 episode of the BBC's Question Time, fellow guest and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop took apart her argument, saying the inaccuracy of sentencing in the UK would mean innocent people would be killed by the state.

In 2016 she said she had changed her mind and no longer believed capital punishment should return to Britain.

She also repeatedly voted against the introduction of laws allowing same sex couples to marry in 2013. She was later being absent during votes on allowing marriage equality in the armed forces.

Additional reporting by PA

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