March 20, 2018

Priti Patel quits over Israel meetings row

09 November 2017, 12:39 | Rufus Hill

Priti Patel the International Development Secretary

Priti Patel the International Development Secretary

The beleaguered UK International Development Secretary Priti Patel appeared to be on the brink of departure from the cabinet this morning following revelations of more undisclosed meetings with senior Israeli officials.

Prime Minister Theresa May's government is already under the microscope over the fallout from a broader parliamentary sexual harassment scandal which last week forced Britain's defence minister Michael Fallon to resign.

No British officials were present and like her meetings in Israel, she did not report them to the Foreign Office or Government in the usual way.

Downing Street denies this and insists that the first the prime minister knew about the International Development Secretary's meetings was last Friday. Some see a mundane reporting error, others an effort to hide, even deceive.

Soon afterward, Patel submitted a letter of resignation, saying her actions had become a "distraction" from the work of her department and the government in general.

"I then discovered this morning that Number 10 had been told by Ms Patel about her meeting with Israeli foreign office official Yuval Rotem in NY and had specifically asked her not to include it".

May responded in a letter, saying: "Now that further details have come to light, it is right that you have chose to resign and adhere to the high standards of transparency and openness that you have advocated".

As her worldwide flight wound its way on Wednesday from Nairobi to London, the BBC regularly posted updates of its progress.

A senior British minister on Monday admitted that she held a previously undisclosed meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while on holiday in Israel in August.

The Labour Party's shadow secretary for global development, Kate Osamor, told BBC News that Patel "should be sacked".

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned by the allegations, he replies: "There is no investigation taking place".

Patel, 45, concedes she broke diplomatic protocol. They also discussed "India, given the secretary of state's family background".

Under intense media scrutiny - including thousands of people following the progress of her plane on a flight tracking website - Ms Patel arrived back in the United Kingdom on a Kenya Airways flight to Heathrow.

Neither meeting was set up or reported in a way which accorded with proper procedures, sources said. "I am sorry for this and I apologise for it".

In an interview she gave to the Guardian newspaper, she strongly suggested that Johnson knew of her schedule beforehand.

The International Development Secretary, who is facing mounting criticism, was "in the air" on her way to Africa, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt told the Commons, adding that she "did not suddenly contrive" the visit in order to avoid facing MPs. She said she "would like to take this opportunity to clarify that this was not the case".

Patel is the second cabinet minister to quit May's government a week after Michael Fallon resigned as defence secretary over allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior on November 1.

Patel said she was investigating ways for Britain to support Israeli efforts to treat Syrians wounded in the civil war.

If so, what was the objective of this meeting or meetings, and when and where did they take place?

Patel's meetings with Israeli officials, which May's office said they were not aware of, and a reported visit to an Israeli army field hospital in the Golan Heights, have increased the pressure on the prime minister, who depends on a Northern Irish party in parliament to pass legislation. Netanyahu has vowed that Israel will retain full control of the high plateau forever and will never return the region to Syria.

She was accompanied at all the meetings bar one in Israel by the honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobbying group, Lord Polak.

The meetings were arranged by Lord Polak.

The Tory peer is also chair of the advisory board of TWC Associates, a strategic consultancy that boasts about its understanding of how "public policy is shaped" and how "our clients can best be plugged into the political process".

Patel met May on Monday and apologized for the unauthorized talks in August.

That encounter was not exactly secret, either.

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