Priti Patel has taken over as Secretary of State for International Development in the Theresa May led post-Brexit British government. A significant promotion within the UK political establishment for this Gujarati-origin Conservative party MP is expected to bring some good news for India. The fact that Priti Patel became a key voice of the pro-Brexit camp in the lead up to the June 23 referendum in Britain may have seemed like a political risk at one level but it was a very natural choice at a personal level. She served as media manager to Eurosceptic Sir James Goldsmith, who founded the Referendum Party in 1994 to campaign actively for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union (EU) back in the 1990s. The party eventually morphed into the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Patel re-joined the Conservative Party, having leafletted and canvassed for it since she was a 17-year-old student. Back in the fold, the ardent Margaret Thatcher admirer continued to regularly and openly criticise the EU until she took on a government role in the David Cameron led Tory coalition in July 2014 as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury. Widely seen as one of the rising stars of the party, she was appointed employment minister by Cameron in May 2015 with the right to attend his Cabinet. As the daughter of a Ugandan Indian business family with a string of newsagents, Patel has often spoken about how she has seen the impact of Britain's membership of the EU on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) at close quarters. “I don′t subscribe to this view that it is racist to speak about immigration and I say that as a daughter of immigrants from decades ago. Our job is to articulate and represent the concerns of the British public - and we should be doing that whatever our backgrounds are,” she said during the Brexit campaign. In a way, the 44-year-old who has been MP for Witham in Essex since the 2010 General Election, had nothing to lose by coming out firmly as one of the star campaigners of the Vote Leave camp, given her unique vantage point of being able to capitalise on her ethnic minority origins. “Temples and gurdwaras have difficulties bringing priests in. Our communities struggle to get visas for kabbadi players to come and share their phenomenal sporting talents in this country. Families cannot bring over relatives for important occasions like weddings and births. Despite our strong historic links to this country, we [Indians] do not expect special treatment or favours. But what we do ask for and deserve is fairness," was her Brexit appeal to the Indian diaspora. “After we Vote Leave, the UK would be free to negotiate its own far-reaching trade deals with India and dozens of other growing economies. Our own connections and ties to those countries would mean we could use the expertise of the diaspora to negotiate a far better mutually beneficial deal than anything that the EU's out-of-touch bureaucrats in Brussels could achieve.”
Besides this natural support base within Britain's Indian community, she had an equal connect with the country's white blue-collar strata. “By leaving the EU, we can replace EU red tape with sensible rules that promote the entrepreneurial spirit that we have in abundance. We send 350 million pounds a week to Brussels, this is money that could be spent on our priorities like the NHS (National Health Service).” Her Brexit campaign itself proved a tad lacklustre, failing to give her the sort of prominence she would have expected. Fellow MP Angela Leadsom, who momentarily emerged as a challenger to Theresa May for the post of Prime Minister, did take away some of her shine, even raising questions over whether May would finally choose to have her around the Cabinet table at all.
After we Vote Leave, the UK would be free to negotiate its own far-reaching trade deals with India and dozens of other growing economies.-Priti Patel, UK International Development Minister