‘Underestimated!’ Priti Patel emerges as leadership contender to watch as Tories mull over Sunak’s successor

Priti Patel emerges as leadership contender to watch as Tories mull over Sunak’s successor

Priti Patel emerges as leadership contender to watch as Tories mull over Sunak’s successor

PA
Jack Walters

By Jack Walters


Published: 25/06/2024

- 21:00

Updated: 26/06/2024

- 19:23

The former Home Secretary is being considered as a unity candidate after July 5 and could look to bring back former Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Dame Priti Patel is quickly emerging as a unity leadership contender to watch as Conservative figures mull over who should succeed Rishi Sunak as leader, top Tories have told GB News.

Sunak, who looks set to lead the Tory Party to its worst defeat since 1906, is expected to get replaced as the Conservatives look set to hold yet another leadership contest.


Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, ex-Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick and Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt have already started making pitches to voters ahead of polls opening on July 4.

Despite keeping her powder dry over recent months, Patel is attracting support from Brexit-backers and One Nation Tories after being lauded for striking the right balance.

Priti Patel emerges as leadership contender to watch as Tories mull over Sunak\u2019s successorPriti Patel emerges as leadership contender to watch as Tories mull over Sunak’s successorPA

“The Priti Patel stuff makes sense,” a former No10 source told GB News. “In a similar way to Boris, people can project different things onto her.

“Suella was helpful for Priti. It made people think she was much better. She could also grow into becoming Leader of the Opposition.

“She’s very underestimated and controlled. She’s kept her head down over the last few months but she’s the one to watch. And she would potentially demand the return of Boris.”

GB News understands allies of Johnson have been quietly supporting Patel ahead of any official move.

A Johnson-supporting Tory source said: “She is a strong contender. Thatcherite, punchy, efficient courageous.”

“It has become incredibly clear that the soft, left Conservatives are now able to win an election and have abandoned voters across the country but also their party members,” a leading figure from the Conservative Right added.

“Whoever the next leader is, it has to be someone from the right of the Conservative Party. Obviously, Priti is one of those. There are quite a lot of others and it all comes down to who on earth is going to hold their seat. Priti’s in a good position for that.”

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Rishi SunakRishi SunakPA

Addressing speculation about Patel assisting a Johnson comeback, the insider argued: “You can’t hang around hoping that something might happen. The Tory Party with a good leader and good policies, doesn’t need Boris as well.

“We need to get the party’s principles back on the table and follow through with policy plans that make sense. Voters want immigration cut, control of our borders, economic growth and lower taxes.

“We need a smaller state to achieve that. The candidate that puts that on the table will be much more successful than any from the last 14 years.”

Patel’s allies believe the ex-Home Secretary is best placed to take on Reform UK leader Nigel Farage and could attract support across the party’s grassroots membership.

A top Tory activist told GB News: “She is the most humble. She connects and respects the members the most which has been the biggest issue with Rishi and the disrespect shown to the members through the last year or so.

“Patel would thwart the threat to Reform and is the Thatcher-esque figure that we all need.”

Former Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking at an event on policing at the Policy Exchange in Westminster

Former Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking at an event on policing at the Policy Exchange in Westminster

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Patel is a longstanding Eurosceptic, having headed up the Referendum Party’s press office between 1995 and 1997.

She also defied David Cameron by supporting Vote Leave in the 2016 referendum on EU membership.

However, figures from the Tory Right stressed Patel’s stint in the Home Office showed her bark was bigger than her bite as the 52-year-old oversaw a surge in illegal Channel crossings, with 45,774 making the perilous 21-mile journey in 2022.

Farage has managed to attract support from 2016 Brexit-backers and 2019 Tory voters ahead of July 4, labelling polling day an “Immigration Election”.

The latest Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll, which put Reform UK one per cent ahead of the Tories in the popular vote, showed the populist party is being supported by 28 per cent of 2019 Conservative supporters.

Sunak has kept just 35 per cent of supporters from the last election, down from over 60 per cent when Johnson resigned.

Farage, who consistently slams consecutive Conservative Home Secretaries for failing to take back control of British borders, was once an ally of Patel.

Nigel FarageNigel Farage was speaking at a Reform UK conference PA

Despite being aligned with Patel on many issues, the Reform UK leader previously said: “Frankly, I thought it was pathetic and she [Patel] said, 'I offer no apology for wanting to control Britain’s borders'. Well, I’m sorry, you’ve been failing at that. Nothing will change. Things will just go on as they are.”

Patel, who was filmed dancing with the Brexit supremo at last year’s Conservative Party Conference, this week ruled out Farage joining the Tories.

The ex-Home Secretary is said to have joined a growing list of Tory leadership contenders ruling out Farage’s return.

She believes entertaining the prospect of a post-election deal with Reform UK would tear the Tories apart.

Suella Braverman, who was Patel’s successor in the Home Office, is the only leadership hopeful openly supporting Farage entering the Tory fold.

Braverman told The Times: “I would welcome Nigel into the Conservative Party. There’s not much difference really between him and many of the policies that we stand for.

“We are a broad church, we should be a welcoming party and an inclusive party and if someone is supportive of the party, that’s a precondition and they want Conservatives to get elected then they should be welcomed.”

Priti Patel giving a speechPriti Patel is thought among those on the right of the party to be the candidate to take on Reform UKPA

However, there are some concerns about whether top Tories can prepare for a leadership race given the dire state of the opinion polls.

A Conservative insider told GB News: “It’s definitely best to wait and see who is actually left.”

The latest YouGov MRP opinion poll suggested Patel will retain her seat but the Tories could be reduced to just 108 MPs.

Witham, which first returned Patel in 2010, gave the Brexit-backing former Home Secretary a majority of 24,082 in 2019.

However, YouGov revealed Patel is just eight points ahead of Labour on 36 per cent, with Reform UK in a strong third place with 20 per cent support.

A number of potential leadership contenders look set to face the chop on July 4.

Boris Johnson and  Priti Patel during a members rally held

Boris Johnson and Priti Patel during a members rally held

PA

Mordaunt and Jenrick look set to lose out to Labour candidates, with Defence Secretary Grant Shapps also facing an uphill battle.

Badenoch, who stood in 2022, is expected to retain North West Essex by around 16 per cent.

Home Secretary James Cleverly looks poised to narrowly retain Braintree by just three points.

Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, seen as the One Nation Group’s stalking horse, will also likely win his seat of Tonbridge & Malling.

Despite runners and riding waiting until polls close to fire the starting gun, Patel appeared to make her clearest pitch yet over the weekend.

Writing for The Telegraph, the ex-International Development Secretary said: “The Labour Party is motivated by a hatred towards enterprise, wealth creation and success.

“The public should not be fooled by Sir Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves cuddling up to business.

“This is just a smokescreen which covers up their plans to tax enterprise, markets and investment to pay for their bankrupt policies.”

GB News has approached Patel for comment.

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