Priti Patel: the ambitious politician whose reach exceeded her grasp

As Priti Patel’s political career lies in ruins, we look back at how it all went wrong


Just a week ago Priti Patel was guest speaker at Ort UK’s annual dinner in London, quoting the Shema to the charity’s donors.

It seemed relatively innocuous – the International Development Secretary speaking to an organisation working in dozens of countries to assist the vulnerable.

On reflection, it looks like more schmoozing from a minister who, it is now clear, allowed her ambitions to outstretch her talent, and to lead her to political disaster.

Ms Patel, 45, had been on a steady rise through the Westminster ranks since she was first elected as MP for Witham in 2010.

Previously a junior minister in the Treasury and then Employment Minister, her appointment to the Department for International Development (DfID) in July last year came after she played a leading role in the Leave campaign during the EU Referendum.

The new cabinet role propelled the Harrow-born politician onto the world stage, with meetings and contacts at the United Nations, G7, G20 and World Bank.

But from the start, Ms Patel had been cultivating contacts in the pro-Israel community, and served as a Conservative Friends of Israel vice-chair. She became a regular at the group’s high-profile events, and in January told a CFI reception that trade with Israel was “absolutely fundamental” to the UK as Brexit talks continued. 

As part of her ministerial responsibilities, Ms Patel oversaw aid delivered to the Palestinian Authority, an issue which has long-vexed MPs and some British tax-payers.

A year ago she reportedly clashed with mandarins after ordering them to suspend payments to the PA over concerns that British money was being funnelled to terrorists and their families.

Her predecessor, Justine Greening, had earlier ordered a review of the system, but Ms Patel went further, despite apparent objections within DfID.

One source familiar with the aid arrangements told the JC: “The department clearly didn’t like her.”

CFI, and Lord Polak, were among the first to congratulate Ms Patel on the aid suspension.

In July, DfID announced £3 million of funding for co-existence projects in Israel and the Palestinian territories after a long-running campaign from Labour Friends of Israel. CFI was “delighted” by the announcement.

With hindsight, the fall-out from the PA aid dispute was an obvious forerunner for what came to pass this summer.

More closely aligned with CFI and Lord Polak than her own department’s civil servants, Ms Patel effectively went rogue. Aside from the political implications, her actions amounted to a serious national security breach and the consequences were inevitable.

She had told CFI supporters in the past that DfID would “play its part by investing in the right things, for the right people”, but no one could have imagined how her intentions would play out.

Ms Patel was setting herself up for a huge fall. Even the most fervent Zionist would question the sense of a British government minister reportedly visiting the Golan – which Britain doesn’t recognise as Israeli territory – on a freelance foreign policy trip that wasn’t signed off by any of her more senior ministers.

She long had clear leadership ambitions, and used her ministerial speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester last month to outline her intentions with only the thinnest of veils.

Ms Patel strayed beyond her international aid remit to discuss Britain’s general international role post-Brexit, invoking Margaret Thatcher and attacking Jeremy Corbyn over Labour’s antisemitism crisis.

Her conclusion: “British Conservative values are my values. And I will use them to shape a better country and a better world for all.”

As her plane returned to London on Wednesday from the curtailed Africa trip, Ms Patel may well have quietly looked out of the window and again recited the Shema.

Barely a month after uttering those hubristic words at the party conference, Priti Patel’s political career lies in ruins.

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