Priti Patel

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The Right Honourable
Priti Patel
Priti Patel 2016.jpg
Secretary of State for International Development
In office
14 July 2016 – 8 November 2017
Prime Minister Theresa May
Preceded by Justine Greening
Succeeded by Penny Mordaunt
Minister of State for Employment
In office
11 May 2015 – 14 July 2016
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Esther McVey
Succeeded by Damian Hinds
Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury
In office
15 July 2014 – 11 May 2015
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by David Gauke
Succeeded by Damian Hinds
Member of Parliament
for Witham
Assumed office
6 May 2010
Preceded by Constituency established
Majority 18,646 (37.9%)
Personal details
Born (1972-03-29) 29 March 1972 (age 45)
London, England
Political party Conservative (before 1995; since 1997)
Referendum (1995–1997)
Spouse(s) Alex Sawyer (m. 2004)
Children 1
Alma mater Keele University
University of Essex

Priti Sushil Patel[1] (born 29 March 1972) is a British Conservative Party politician, and Member of Parliament (MP) for the Witham constituency in Essex since 2010. She was Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Minister of State for Employment under David Cameron, subsequently serving as Secretary of State for International Development under Theresa May.

A longstanding Eurosceptic, she was a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign during the build-up to the 2016 referendum on UK membership of the European Union.[2] Patel is regarded as being ideologically on the party's right-wing[3][4] and has been described[5] as a Thatcherite.

In November 2017, she resigned as Secretary of State for International Development, following several newspaper articles revealing that she had been involved in unauthorised meetings with the Israeli government. These meetings took place both during a private holiday in Israel in August 2017, and during her work in September 2017. All of the unauthorised meetings were in breach of the ministerial code.[6][7]

Early life[edit]

Priti was born to Sushil and Anjana Patel in Harrow.[8] Her parents are originally from Gujarat, India but moved to Uganda. In the 1960s shortly before President Idi Amin announced the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, they immigrated to the UK and settled in Hertfordshire.[9] They established a chain of newsagents in London and the South East of England.[10][11][12]

Patel attended Watford Grammar School for Girls in Watford,[13] a non-selective comprehensive at the time[a] despite its name,[14][15][16] before studying Economics at Keele University, and then pursuing postgraduate studies in British Government and Politics at the University of Essex.[17][18]

The Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher became her political heroine: according to Patel, she "had a unique ability to understand what made people tick, households tick and businesses tick. Managing the economy, balancing the books and making decisions – not purchasing things the country couldn't afford".[10] She first joined the Conservative Party as a teenager, when John Major was Prime Minister.[9]

Early career[edit]

After graduating, Patel was recruited by Andrew Lansley (then Head of the Conservative Research Department) at Conservative Central Office having, from 1995 to 1997, headed the press office of the Referendum Party which stood candidates in most constituencies at the 1997 general election.

In 1997, Patel left to join the Conservative Party having been offered a post to work for the new leader William Hague in his press office, dealing with media relations in London and the South East of England.[19] In August 2003, the Financial Times published an article alleging that "racist attitudes" persisted in the Conservative Party, and that "there's a lot of bigotry around".[20] Patel wrote to the FT countering its article stating that her comments had been misinterpreted to imply that she had been blocked as a party candidate because of her ethnicity.[21]

In 2000, aged 27, Patel left the Conservative party to work for Weber Shandwick, a PR consulting firm.[22] According to an investigative article published by The Guardian in May 2015, Patel was one of the seven Shandwick employees who worked on British American Tobacco (BAT) - a major account. The team had been tasked with helping BAT manage the company's public image during the controversy around the Burma factory being used as source of funds by its military dictatorship and poor payment to factory workers. The crisis eventually ended with BAT pulling out of Burma in 2003. The article went on to quote BAT employees who felt that though a majority of Shandwick employees were uncomfortable working with them, Patel's group was fairly relaxed. The article also quoted internal Shandwick documents specifying that a part of Patel's job was also to lobby MEPs against EU tobacco regulations. She worked for Shandwick for 3 years[23]

In the 2005 general elections, she stood as the Conservative candidate for Nottingham North, losing to the sitting Labour MP Graham Allen.[24][25]

Patel then moved to Diageo, the British multinational alcoholic beverages company, and worked in corporate relations between 2003 and 2007.[26] In 2007, she rejoined as Director of Corporate and Public Affairs practices. According their press release, during her time a Diageo Patel had "worked on international public policy issues related to the wider impact of alcohol in society."[27]

Parliamentary career[edit]

Member of Parliament for Witham: 2010–present[edit]

After unsuccessfully contesting Nottingham North at the 2005 general election, Patel was identified as a promising candidate by new party leader David Cameron, and was offered a place on the "A-List" of Conservative prospective parliamentary candidates (PPC).[20] In November 2006, she was adopted as the PPC for the notionally safe Conservative seat of Witham—a new constituency in central Essex created after a boundary review[28][29]—before gaining a majority of 15,196 at the 2010 general election. She was drafted into the Number 10 Policy Unit in October 2013,[30] and was promoted as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury the following summer.[11]

Along with fellow Conservative MPs Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, Patel was considered one of the "Class of 2010" who represented the party's "new Right".[31] Together they co-authored Britannia Unchained, a book published in 2012. This work was critical of levels of workplace productivity in the UK, making the controversial statement that "once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world". The authors suggested that to change this situation, the UK should reduce the size of the welfare state and seek to emulate the working conditions in countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea rather than those of other European nations.[32][33]

In October 2014, Patel criticised the plan of the Academies Enterprise Trust to merge the New Rickstones and Maltings Academies, claiming that to do so would be detrimental to school standards.[34] Patel lodged a complaint with the BBC alleging one-sided coverage critical of Narendra Modi on the eve of his victory in 2014 Indian elections.[35][36] In January 2015, Patel was presented with a "Jewels of Gujarat" award in Ahmedabad, India, and in the city she gave a keynote speech at the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce.[37]

In the general election of May 2015—a Conservative victory—Patel retained her parliamentary seat with 27,123 votes, increasing her majority by 4,358.[38] During the campaign, she had criticised Labour Party rival John Clarke for referring to her as a "sexy Bond villain" and a "village idiot" on social media; he apologised.[39] After the election, Patel rose to Cabinet-level as Minister of State for Employment in the Department for Work and Pensions,[40] and was sworn of the Privy Council on 14 May 2015. In December 2015, Patel voted to support Cameron's planned bombing of Islamic State targets in Syria.[41]

'Brexit' campaign: 2015–16[edit]

Following Cameron's announcement of a referendum on the UK's continuing membership of the European Union (EU), Patel was widely touted as a likely "poster girl" for the Vote Leave campaign.[2] Patel said that the EU is "undemocratic and interferes too much in our daily lives". She publicly stated that immigration from elsewhere in the EU was overstretching the resources of UK schools.[42] She helped to launch the Women For Britain campaign for anti-EU women; at their launch party, she compared their campaign with that of Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes, for which she was criticised by Emmeline's great-granddaughter Helen Pankhurst.[43]

Following the success of the 'Leave' vote in the EU referendum, Cameron resigned, resulting in a leadership contest within the party. Patel openly supported Theresa May as his successor, claiming that she had the "strength and experience" for the job, while arguing that May's main challenger Andrea Leadsom would prove too divisive to win a general election.[44] In November 2017, Patel was critical of the UK government Brexit negotiations and stated: "I would have told the EU in particular to sod off with their excessive financial demands".[45]

Secretary of State for International Development: 2016–17[edit]

Patel greets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Heathrow Airport, London; 12 November 2015.

After becoming Prime Minister, in July 2016 May appointed Patel to the position of International Development Secretary. Patel described herself as being "delighted" with the post despite a statement made in 2013 suggesting that the Department for International Development should be scrapped and replaced with a Department for International Trade and Development.[46] Many staff at the department were concerned about Patel's appointment, both because of her support for Brexit and because of her longstanding scepticism regarding international development and aid spending.[47]

On taking the position, Patel stated that too much UK aid was wasted or spent inappropriately, declaring that she would adopt an approach rooted in "core Conservative principles" and emphasise international development through trade as opposed to aid.[48] In September, Patel announced that Britain would contribute £1.1 billion to a global aid fund used to combat malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, but added that any further aid deals would include "performance agreements" meaning that the British Government could reduce aid by 10% if specific criteria were not met by the recipient country.[49]

In September 2016 she expressed opposition to the construction of 28 affordable homes at the Lakelands development in Stanway, referring to it as an "unacceptable loss of open space" and criticising Colchester Borough Council for permitting it.[50] That same month, the council's chief executive Adrian Pritchard issued a complaint against Patel, claiming that she had acted "inappropriately" in urging Sajid Javid to approve the construction of an out-of-town retail park after it had already been rejected by Colchester Council.[51]

Also in September, proposals were put forward for a change to the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies across Britain. As a result of the plans, Patel's seat of Witham would be merged with neighbouring Maldon. This would potentially require her to compete against Maldon MP John Whittingdale for the new seat of Witham and Maldon.[52]

Patel was critical of the UK's decision to invest DFID funds to support the Palestinian territories through UN agencies and the Palestinian Authority. In October 2016 Patel ordered a review of the funding procedure, temporarily freezing approximately a third of Britain’s aid to the Palestinians during the review. In December 2016, DFID announced significant changes concerning future funding for the Palestinian Authority. DFID stated that future aid would go “solely to vital health and education services, in order to meet the immediate needs of the Palestinian people and maximise value for money.' This move was widely supported by Jewish groups, including the Jewish Leadership Council and the Zionist Federation.[53][54]

Meetings with Israeli officials and resignation[edit]

On 3 November 2017, the BBC's Diplomatic correspondent James Landale broke the news that Patel had held meetings in Israel in August 2017 without telling the Foreign Office. She was accompanied by Lord Polak, honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). The meetings, up to a dozen in number took place while Patel was on a "private holiday". Patel met Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel's centrist Yesh Atid party, and reportedly made visits to several organisations where official departmental business was discussed. BBC reported that "According to one source, at least one of the meetings was held at the suggestion of the Israeli ambassador to London. In contrast, British diplomats in Israel were not informed about Ms Patel's plans."[6]

It was also reported that, following the meetings, Patel had recommended that the Department for International Development give international aid money to field hospitals run by the Israeli army in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights region of Syria. Although these hospitals have been described by the British Prime Minister's official spokesman as "provid[ing] medical support for Syrian refugees",[55] Israeli officials have refused to identify who they treat in them, and whether they are regime forces, rebels or civilians.[56] Western media reports suggest that Israel is aiding and funding Syrian opposition organisations in the Syrian civil war.[57][58]

On 4 November 2017, in an interview with The Guardian, Patel stated

Boris [Johnson] knew about the visit. The point is that the Foreign Office did know about this, Boris knew about [the trip]. I went out there, I paid for it. And there is nothing else to this. It is quite extraordinary. It is for the Foreign Office to go away and explain themselves. The stuff that is out there is it, as far as I am concerned. I went on holiday and met with people and organisations. As far as I am concerned, the Foreign Office have known about this. It is not about who else I met; I have friends out there.[59][60]

Patel faced calls to resign, with numerous political figures calling her actions a breach of the ministerial code, which states: "Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise". An unnamed senior member of the UK government was quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying, "She had a week full of meetings without officials and without contacting the embassy. She saw the Israeli Prime Minister with a donor lobbyist, and failed to declare or admit to the meetings. She commissioned policy work as a result. It is a total breach of the code. She's toast."[61] Labour MP Jon Trickett said, "She met with the prime minister, and all sorts in Israel, with a lobbyist – I don't think it is good enough to apologise as I really think this is a serious breach of the ministerial code. The Prime Minister really should be sacking her, or at the very very minimum referring it to the Cabinet Office for investigation".[61]

On 6 November, Patel was summoned to meet the Prime Minister Theresa May, who then said that Patel had been "reminded of her responsibilities" and announced plans for the ministerial code of conduct to be tightened.[62] According to Downing Street, the Prime Minister learned of the meetings when the BBC broke the story on 3 November.[63] When May hosted Netanyahu the previous day for the Balfour Declaration centenary, she was not aware that her minister had meetings with him in August.

Patel resigned from her cabinet position on 8 November 2017, after 16 months in the post.[64] She was replaced by pro-Brexit MP Penny Mordaunt the following day.[65] Patel stated that, following her resignation, she was "overwhelmed with support from colleagues across the political divide" and from her constituents.[66][67]

Political ideology and views[edit]

Patel is considered to be on the right-wing of the Conservative Party,[4] with the Total Politics website noting that some saw her as a "modern-day Norman Tebbit".[3] In The Guardian, the economics commentator Aditya Chakrabortty characterised her as "an out-and-out rightwinger" who has no desire to "claim the centre ground" in politics.[68] Patel has cited Thatcher as her political hero,[10] with various news sources characterising her as a Thatcherite,[10][31] and while profiling Patel for The Independent, Tom Peck noted that she "could scarcely be more of a Thatcherite".[5] She served on the 1922 Committee before appointment as a Minister, and is an officer of Conservative Friends of Israel.[69]

She has taken robust stances on crime, garnering headlines after she argued for the restoration of capital punishment on the BBC's Question Time in September 2011,[70][71] although as of 2016 she no longer held this view.[72] She also opposes prisoner voting. She has also opposed allowing Jeremy Bamber, who was convicted of murder in her constituency, access to media to protest his innocence.[73] Patel had a mixed voting record, guided by her constituents' views, on allowing same-sex marriage[74] but ultimately voted against the 2013 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.[75]

Patel has been criticised by some for raising issues in the House of Commons related to her time working for the tobacco and alcohol industries.[76] As a parliamentarian, Patel has been consistently supportive of tobacco industry viewpoints: in October 2010, she voted for the smoking ban to be overturned; in December 2010, she signed a letter requesting that plain packaging for cigarettes be reconsidered. Patel has also campaigned with the drinks industry, holding a reception in parliament for the Call Time On Duty Campaign in favour of ending the alcohol duty escalator supported the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, the Scotch Whisky Association and the Tax Payers' Alliance.[77]

Personal life[edit]

Patel has been married to Alex Sawyer since 2004.[78] Sawyer is a marketing consultant for the stock exchange NASDAQ. He is a Conservative councillor and Cabinet Member for Traffic and Transport on the council of the London borough of Bexley.[79][80][81] Sawyer also worked part-time as her office manager from February 2014 to August 2017.[81][82]

Together they have a son, Freddie, born in August 2008.[83]


  1. ^ In 1975, the school was converted to a comprehensive and then in 1995 it became partially selective.


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External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament
for Witham

Political offices
Preceded by
David Gauke
Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Damian Hinds
Preceded by
Esther McVey
Minister of State for Employment
Preceded by
Justine Greening
Secretary of State for International Development
Succeeded by
Penny Mordaunt