Priti Patel, has said she wants criminals “to literally feel terror” once she begins law and order reforms aimed at restoring the Conservatives’ status as the party of the police.

“I fundamentally think the Conservative party is the party of law and order. Full stop,” Patel told the Daily Mail, in her first interview since Boris Johnson appointed her home secretary.

Patel indicated a sharp rightward turn in the government’s approach to crime, which comes after Johnson announced plans to recruit 20,000 new police officers.

“My focus now is restating our commitment to law and order and restating our commitment to the people on the frontline, the police,” Patel said.

“I’ve always felt the Conservative party is the party of the police and police officers … quite frankly, with more police officers out there and greater police presence, I want [criminals] to literally feel terror at the thought of committing offences.”

The appointment is a reversal of fortunes for Patel, who was sacked from the government two years ago after breaking the ministerial code by secretly and unofficially meeting Israeli ministers, businesspeople and a senior lobbyist.

One of 30 Tory Brexit ultras who voted against the former prime minister Theresa May’s EU deal at every opportunity, Patel’s elevation to the Home Office is regarded as a key component of what political commentators are calling the most rightwing cabinet since the Thatcher years.

Patel indicated a return to a hard line on drugs offences after some forces had apparently not been taking action on possession.

“Any form of drug use – you don’t turn a blind eye to it at all. It has a corrosive impact on people and communities,” she said.

Human rights activists have reacted with alarm at Patel’s new job, which puts her in charge of crime and policing, counter-terrorism and drugs policy.

The Essex MP, whose Gujarati Indian parents migrated to the UK in the 1960s from Uganda just before Idi Amin’s decision to deport all Asians, has voted for a stricter asylum system, stronger enforcement of immigration rules, and against banning the detention of pregnant women in immigration jails.

However, she distanced herself from her past comments on the death penalty, despite telling a Question Time audience in 2011 that she would support its reintroduction.

“I have never said I’m an active supporter of it and [what I said] is constantly taken out of context,” she told the Mail, adding that her comments on Question Time “may have been clipped”.

She told the Question Time audience: “I do actually think when we have a criminal justice system that continuously fails in this country and where we have seen murderers, rapists and people who have committed the most abhorrent crimes in society, go into prison and then are released from prison to go out into the community to then reoffend and do the types of crime they have committed again and again.

“I think that’s appalling. And actually on that basis alone I would actually support the reintroduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent.”

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Ed Davey, called Patel “out of touch” for her policing comments.

“Priti Patel’s notion that making people terrified of the police will cut crime shows just how out of touch she is with what’s leading some young people into crime in the first place,” he said.

“So often, young people say they carry knives because they are afraid of other young people in gangs. We need more police so these young people can feel less afraid as they now trust the police to be there, not because the police add to their fears.”


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