Priti Patel gives first TV interview since quitting Cabinet over Israeli meetings

Priti Patel and Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: STEFAN ROUSSEAU

Priti Patel and Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: STEFAN ROUSSEAU - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Witham MP Priti Patel faced questions over the prospect of a possible Cabinet return this morning in her first broadcast interview since quitting over her secret meetings with senior Israeli figures last year.

In her first broadcast interview since she was sacked as international development secretary in November, Ms Patel apologised for causing the Prime Minister difficulty by meeting members of the Israeli government without her knowledge.

But she insisted there was “no malice” in the secret meetings and said it would have been “remiss” of her not to speak to them while on holiday in the country.

Ms Patel held a series of 12 engagements with senior Israeli figures, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a holiday in the country in August last year.

She also held two additional meetings, one in the UK and one in the US, after returning. It is also claimed that during her stay in the country she visited an Israeli military field hospital in the occupied Golan Heights. Britain, like other members of the international community, has never recognised Israeli control of the area, seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Speaking to ITV1’s Good Morning Britain thos morning, Brexit-backing Ms Patel gave her backing to Mrs May, saying she remained on “cordial” terms with the Prime Minister and was “absolutely not” envisaging her being forced out of office.

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But she did not rule out an eventual bid for the Tory leadership, telling presenters Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid: “I haven’t got a crystal ball. No-one knows what the future holds. Everything changes quite frequently. I don’t know what tomorrow might bring.

“I am ambitious for our country, let’s be clear about that. I want us to succeed. I want us to be that bright beacon of hope, a fantastic economy, and I want to secure Britain’s place in the world through Brexit but making my contribution through the backbenches but being quite a robust MP as well.”

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Asked if she would like to return to Cabinet, she said: “At the end of the day, I left government and I have got a very big voice out there when it comes to Brexit and other issues.”

When pressed, she added: “That’s a matter for the Prime Minister. It really is. This is not a yes or no situation. My contribution Piers is no doubt through the backbenches, speaking out for Brexit, but also many other issues of the day. I represent a great constituency in Essex. My constituents have a lot of issues going on.”

Asked about the meetings with Israeli politicians which led to her departure from office, Ms Patel added: “I apologise for what happened. My actions caused difficulty for the Government.

“I take the view that, as a politician, we all know other politicians around the world. Whether you are abroad on business or even on holiday, I think it’s remiss if you don’t actually go and meet people who you know.

“That’s what I did, there was no malice intended.”

Ms Patel said that “with hindsight” she now understood that she should have informed Theresa May about the meetings.

She also urged Theresa May to ensure that the UK leaves the EU’s customs union, warning that this is the only way that Britain can secure “the freedom to succeed”.

Ms Patel’s comments came ahead of a speech in which CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn is expected to call for the UK to remain in the customs union after Brexit for the sake of business and jobs.

Ms Fairbairn argues that “the day hasn’t yet arrived” when the benefits of an independent trade policy would outweigh the barriers to commerce with continental Europe that leaving the customs union would cause.

But Ms Patel told Good Morning Britain: “We have got to deliver on getting the trade deals. This is about our freedom, the freedom to succeed, the freedom to strike trade deals with the fastest growing countries and economies in the world.”

Ms Patel said Britain’s economic record since the 2016 referendum has proved the “negativity” of opponents of Brexit wrong.

“We have got to stop running our country down,” she said. “We’ve got to stop listening to negative voices, because the fundamentals are good, our economy is growing, we’ve got good rates of employment.

“The way we go forward is we don’t do what the CBI says, we don’t do the ‘We should still remain in the customs union’. If we were to do that, we would not actually be leaving the European Union.

“We have to leave the customs union to be on an equal footing with many other countries in the world so we can set our own parameters for trade.”

And she insisted: “We want a fair deal with Europe, but we’ve got to have the freedom to succeed, we’ve got to have the ability to diverge, with our own rules and not governed by remote control by the European Union.

“This is the freedom that the British public voted for, these are the freedoms that we should be securing through the negotiations and through the trade discussions that are taking place.”

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