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  1. ITV Report

Patel backs PM on Brexit and election call amid reports of future leadership bid

Theresa May made no error in calling for an election and has not been weakened in Brexit negotiations, Priti Patel has told ITV's Peston on Sunday.

The international development secretary was repeatedly challenged by Robert Peston to admit the prime minister's call for a national vote was a mistake after she was returned with a minority government.

But Ms Patel rejected the claim Mrs May had "less control" in talks as she insisted the government's negotiation position was unchanged.

She also said she disagreed with some of her fellow Conservative MPs that Mrs May would not be the party's leader at the next election, though refused to directly deny speculation she would run for the Tory party leadership.

Asked if the PM's election call was a mistake, she said: "I don't think it was because we are now in a position where we are leaving the European Union and beginning that negotiation process."

Priti Patel refused to directly deny speculation she would run for the Tory party leadership. Credit: Peston on Sunday

She added: "We've been clear from day one of the negotiating objectives, which the prime minister outlined prior to the General Election ... nothing has changed in terms of those objectives going forward."

Asked about the likelihood of Mrs May leading the party into another election, Ms Patel said: "I'm pretty clear that we are in Government, getting on with the job of Government and actually - and really importantly right now - working with Theresa as Prime Minister to get on and do the job of leaving the European Union."

After reports in the Sunday Telegraph that she could be the next Conservative leader, she said: "Well, if you heard what I've just said you'll clearly recognise that I am talking about getting on and doing a good job."

The international development secretary meanwhile defended an announcement that appeared to preserve the status quo of trading arrangements with countries across the developing world after Brexit.

Developing world countries including Bangladesh will continue to be given duty-free access to Britain for imports after Brexit Credit: AP Photo

The government confirmed 48 of the world's poorest nations will continue to be given duty-free access to Britain for imports.

Ms Patel said: "They are asking about the future arrangement they are having with us."

Asked by Peston for the point of an announcement that didn't show trade terms improving, she replied: "The point of the announcement is to demonstrate that it is mutually beneficial to both countries that obviously trade will continue."

Liam Fox said leaving the EU was an opportunity for Britain to 'step up' trade commitments. Credit: Matt Crossick/Empics Entertainment

The move to continue the existing EU free trade deal with select countries means British firms will be able to go on buying goods from 48 of the world's developing nations, including Bangladesh and Haiti, without having to pay import tariffs.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox earlier hailed the deal as an example of how Brexit would be "an opportunity to step up to our commitments to the rest of the world, not step away from them".

The pledge to increase trade with developing countries in a number of areas was welcomed by The Fairtrade Foundation's Tim Aldred who said he hoped it would "strengthen the position of the least developed countries".

Mr Aldred added though that "the position of poor countries just outside the 'least developed country' category, such as Kenya, will need to be clarified" and said "the government will also need to take care that large deals with emerging economies do not push out the sales from the poorest countries."