Britain must leave customs union to have 'freedom to succeed', says Patel

Brexit-backing former Cabinet minister Priti Patel has 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".

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.

Speaking to ITV1's Good Morning Britain, 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.

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."

Priti Patel
Priti Patel at Heathrow in November 2017, after she was ordered back to Britain when further unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians were revealed (Steve Parsons/PA)

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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