Former cabinet minister Priti Patel says she has warned Conservative colleagues not to “label me as BME”.
She told BBC Radio Kent she found the commonly used acronym for Black and Minority Ethnic “patronising” and “insulting”.
The former international development secretary and leading Brexiteer did not rule out a bid for the Conservative leadership at some point.
She quit the cabinet last November after a row over unauthorised meetings.
She said she was “not sure” if Britain would ever see a prime minister from a minority community.
There was a lot of “patronage” in the British political system and lot of institutional barriers, she told Radio Kent, but she would “love to see it” as it would show the country was a “true meritocracy”.
Asked if it could be her, she said: “Who knows?”
The Witham MP said she wanted to encourage more people from Indian backgrounds to follow in her footsteps and get involved in politics.
But she said it would be a “regressive step” for any political party or government to put people in posts “just because they are women or because they represent a minority group”.
“I don’t like the labelling of people. I don’t like the term BME. I’m British first and foremost, because I was born in Britain.
“I challenge all my colleagues in the Conservative Party and in Westminster: Don’t label me as a BME. I’ve said that to people in the cabinet. I’ve said that to civil servants. I think it’s patronising and insulting.”
She said the term was “totally unhelpful because we are people and everybody wants to be recognised for their individual merits”.
Priti Patel factfile
- Born: 29 March, 1972, in London
- Education: Watford Grammar School; economics degree from Keele University, postgraduate study in British government and politics at University of Essex
- Family: Born to Gujarati parents who fled Uganda in the 1960s. Married with a seven-year-old son
- Career: Elected Witham MP in 2010. Became Treasury minister in 2014 and Minister for Employment in 2015. Appointed Secretary of State for International Development in July 2016. Resigned in November 2017.
Ms Patel was forced to quit the government after admitting she had unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials.
She said the “whole thing was incredibly messy” but she had been “very clear with the prime minister and also I took responsibility for what she felt was not acceptable, so I think I did the right thing”.
She was speaking at a Conservative event in Broadstairs for International Women’s Day.