In Depth

Priti Patel: the rising star tipped to lead Brexit campaign

Employment minister's hardline stances and unabashed Thatcherism have made her a leader of the 'new Right'

She is the female British-Asian MP who has provoked unlikely comparisons to right-wing diehards such as former Cabinet Minister Lord Tebbit. Now Priti Patel could be about to raise her public profile by leading the charge for Brexit. So who is she and why is she such a divisive figure, even within her party?

Who is Priti Patel?

Born in London to Gujarati parents who fled Uganda in the 1960s, 43-year-old Patel is a graduate of Keele University, where she studied economics, sociology and social anthropology. After graduating, she spent several years working in press relations and consultancy, including a controversial stint representing British American Tobacco.

She became a card-carrying Conservative aged 18 and first fought for a seat in 2005, unsuccessfully fighting to become MP for Nottingham North. However, new leader David Cameron identified her as a promising young talent and she was parachuted into the safe Tory seat of Witham, where she was duly elected in 2010. Following the 2015 general election, she was named employment minister in the Department for Work and Pensions.

She is also married and has a seven-year-old son.

What are her views?

Along with MPs Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, Patel is part of the five-strong "Class of 2010" seen to represent the party's "new Right". She voted against gay marriage, campaigned against the smoking ban and once referred to British workers as "among the worst idlers in the world".

On economic matters, she's an unapologetic Thatcherite. The former prime minister had a "unique ability to understand what made people tick", Patel said of her idol, Margaret Thatcher, in an interview with Total Politics. "Managing the economy, balancing the books and making decisions – not purchasing things the country couldn't afford."

Perhaps most surprisingly, Patel is among the handful of MPs to have spoken out in support of the death penalty, abolished in Britain in 1965. In a 2011 appearance on the BBC's Question Time, she said she would support the reintroduction of capital punishment as a "deterrent" in the case of serious serial offenders, but has since refused to clarify her views on the issue.

One of her passions is outreach to British Asians, who tend to vote Labour. Conservative Party ideology, with its focus on family, tradition and self-reliance, is a good match for Asian values, she told the IB Times in 2013. Her enthusiasm for spreading the Tory gospel is a boon for the party, which has traditionally struggled to connect with ethnic minority voters.

Will she have a leading role in the Brexit campaign?

Patel is a former member of the Referendum Party, which campaigned for a vote on EU membership, and the Daily Telegraph reports that she has said privately that she intends to play a "leading role" in the Leave campaign.

She also made headlines on Monday for castigating Sir Peter Heywood over allegations he told civil servants to bypass pro-Brexit ministers. She accused the Cabinet Secretary of "unconstitutional" behaviour, exposing her willingness to throw down the gauntlet and put herself at the forefront of the campaign.

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