June 30, 2022

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary who embodies the fractures of the United Kingdom

She is one of the handful of ministers who could replace Boris Johnson. Interior Minister Priti Patel is said to be “ready” to embark on the race, according to several British media, while the Prime Minister is entangled in a series of scandals. The latest: the holding of Christmas parties at 10 Downing Street in December 2020, with full health restrictions.

Protected by Boris Johnson, the 49-year-old MP for Witham (southern England) has experienced a rapid rise in government, despite criticism from the opposition against her ultra-right-wing positions. “There is no one else in the Conservative Party who could do what she is doing (…) she is unbeatable”, entrusts a conservative parliamentarian to Times*. Yet nothing, or little, predestined her to become number 3 in the government.

The notoriety of Priti Patel is anchored at the annual Congress of the conservatives of 2019. Welcomed like a rock star, she presents herself as a “self-made woman”, as the Tories love it. She then tells the story of a daughter of Indian immigrants from Gujarat who fled the persecutions of Asians by dictator Idi Amin Dada in the 1970s in Uganda. The story of a woman who started from nothing who rose through the ranks through patience and hard work.

In an immaculate dress, smile supported between two rounds of applause, she hammers her admiration for Margaret Thatcher and her commitments for “law and order”, “strengthening the police” and “the fight against crime”.

“As Margaret Thatcher said, my policy is not based on economic theory, but on values ​​with which millions of people like me have been raised: honest work, honest wages (…) pay your bills on time and support the police. “

Priti Patel

at the Conservative Congress in 2019

Priti Patel sees herself as the heiress of the “Iron Lady”. Like “Maggie”, she is a daughter of traders who has managed to rise to the top of the state. Like “Maggie”, her aversion to Europe runs deep. It dates back to “Black Wednesday” in 1992, when the United Kingdom had to withdraw the pound sterling from the European Monetary System, causing a stock market crash. “My mom and dad lost their business. We were lucky to keep a roof over our heads”, she tells the Daily Mail*.

After this episode, she joined the Referendum Party, founded by billionaire James Goldsmith (support of Philippe de Villiers in France for the 1995 presidential election), whose sole aim is to obtain a consultation on leaving the EU. At the time, this “Euroscepticism is in the minority on the right, but it has ended up progressing and becoming dominant among the conservatives”, analysis Agnès Alexandre-Collier, professor of British civilization at the University of Burgundy.

With several Conservative MPs, she published in 2012 a book that places her as a major figure of the British “new right”, says The Guardian*. In Britannia Unchained, qualified for “Thatcher on steroids” by the same left-wing newspaper, Priti Patel accuses the British of being “among the worst lazy people in the world”.

“We are among the least working in the world, we retire early and our productivity is low. While Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and music. pop.”

Priti Patel

in “Britannia Unchained”

With her co-authors, she calls for a radical deregulation of the market. “This post-Thatcherian ‘new right’ was a godsend for David Cameron who sought to modernize the image of his too ‘pale, male and stale’ party [blanc, masculin et périmé], decrypts Agnès Alexandre-Collier. “They had more extreme ideas than the traditional conservatives, but gave a more inclusive image of the party, because they were from minorities or from popular backgrounds.”, analyzes the expert.

Less than ten years later, with Brexit helping, all of the book’s authors hold or have held ministerial posts in Boris Johnson’s government. “Brexit normalized their populist discourse”, summarizes Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London. Faced with competition from Ukip, the UK Independence Party, “the conservatives have ‘righted’ their position and Priti Patel perfectly embodies this line”, he continues.

This sharp turn to the right is illustrated above all on the issue of migration. As soon as she took office in the summer of 2019, Priti Patel set up a points system, which intends to favor “brilliant brains” It front of “low-skilled workers”. Of the 70 points required to obtain a visa, 50 are given if an applicant speaks English, and 20 if he has a promise of employment with an annual salary of at least 30,000 euros per year, illustrates the BBC * .

Priti Patel and Gérald Darmanin during a visit to Calais (Pas-de-Calais), July 12, 2020 (DENIS CHARLET / AFP)

“Apart from this chosen immigration, the government wants to criminalize illegal crossings, which goes against international law”, worries Ala Sirriyeh, a migration researcher at Lancaster University.

“Through immigration, which is only considered from a security angle, Priti Patel wants to show that the country is regaining control of its borders, a promise dear to the Brexiters.”

Ala Sirriyeh, researcher at Lancaster University

to franceinfo

In October 2020, the Financial Times* reveals the suggestions resulting from a confidential working meeting between Priti Patel and her collaborators, intended to find new methods to fight against migrant crossings in the Channel. Among the ideas put on the table: use water cannons to create waves and overturn migrant canoes, build a “floating wall” of boats * to block passages, create asylum processing centers on unused ferries or oil platforms *, or even relocating asylum seekers to Ascension Island *, a rock in the middle of the South Atlantic, almost 7,000 km from London.

“This idea comes from brain-dead morons at the Home Office”, sweeps a cabinet official, while others close to the minister blame “enemies of the interior”. But the leak only further convinces the opposition that the minister is pursuing a migration policy “inhuman, totally impractical and extremely costly”.

This hard line was also at the origin of many tensions with Paris. The same year, Priti Patel reproach the French government* not to intercept boats and calls for migrants to stay in France, “a safe country”. The rupture is consumed in November 2021 when Gérald Darmanin withdraws the invitation of the British Minister to a European summit in Calais (Pas-de-Calais), after the shipwreck and the death of 27 migrants. “Our exchanges are cordial in private, but in public, the British government is complaining about France. We regret this double talk.”, comments a source at the French Interior Ministry.

Ignoring both substance and form, Priti Patel refuses to be where we expect him to be. On social issues, she supports the restoration of the death penalty for a while before going back on her position and is opposed to the marriage of homosexual couples. In 2020, she calls the environmental activists of Extinction Rebellion “crusaders” who have “fired criminals”, cite The world. To counter their peaceful sit-in, she proposes to criminalize the demonstrators who block the roads, recalls The Guardian*.

A cartoon of Priti Patel during a protest against mobilization restrictions on May 1, 2021 in London. (JAMES VEYSEY / SHUTTERSTOCK / SIPA)

That same year, in the wake of global outrage over the murder of George Floyd, she called the debunking of the statue of slave ship Edward Colston in Bristol as“absolutely shameful”, and when footballers kneel down to denounce racism, she evokes “political posturing”.

“Being a person of color does not automatically give you authority over all forms of racism”, then accuse Labor MPs from minorities. Dry, she answers them on Twitter : “I will not be silenced by Labor MPs who continue to reject the ideas of those who do not conform to their vision of how ethnic minorities should behave.”

“People expect me to be anti-racist because I’m Asian, but that’s a racist stereotype.”

Priti Patel

at “Glamor UK”

Hated and adored, it’s hard to find a politician who divides opinion as much as Priti Patel. “She doesn’t fit in the boxes. She’s not a traditional curator,” defends one of his friends with the Times*. “People spend their time lecturing him. But would they have talked to a man like that? “ asks another.

Graffiti against Priti Patel on a wall in London, August 10, 2021 (MIKE KEMP / IN PICTURES / GETTY IMAGES)

For Mike Savage, professor of political science at the London School of Economy, his speech reflects his time: “She is part of that right wing which in the ‘cultural battles’ of the post-Brexit UK is fighting progressivism by creating conflict. She knows she can say things a white man couldn’t say, and that benefits his party. “

Boris Johnson understood this well. The former mayor of London continues to defend it with each controversy. In 2020, she is accused of moral harassment and the BBC * reveals that the government paid 25,000 pounds to a former employee of the Ministry of Labor, where Priti Patel practiced in 2015, who had attempted suicide after a violent verbal assault of the Minister. An investigation concludes that Priti Patel did violate the ministerial code on several occasions, in several ministries. Boris Johnson chooses to grant him his “full confidence” and simply responds that she is “a fantastic Minister of the Interior”. He even calls his ministers to “form a square around the Prittster” (the nickname he gives him).

“Boris Johnson is very fond of this kind of bossy personality, who dares to say what she thinks. He also needs her because she embodies the hard Brexit he promised”, explains Agnès Alexandre-Collier. “Brexiteuse” before the hour, whose marginal ideas have become central in her party … The time for Priti Patel may well have come.

* Links followed by an asterisk direct to content in English