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Saturday 18 November 2017

UK minister Priti Patel resigns over Israel meetings

British MP Priti Patel leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
British MP Priti Patel leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

David Hughes, Gavin Cordon and Andrew Woodcock

Priti Patel has quit her Cabinet role and acknowledged that her "actions fell below the standards of transparency and openness" she had advocated.

Her decision to resign as International Development Secretary came after being summoned back from an official visit to Africa for a showdown with Theresa May in Downing Street.

Ms Patel had been intending to spend three days in Kenya and Uganda, but was forced to cut short her trip and return home from Nairobi to explain the disclosure of further unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Ms Patel said: "I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the Government for what has happened and offer my resignation."

Ms Patel's downfall came after it emerged she had a series of 12 meetings with senior Israeli figures during a holiday in the country in August.

She then held two additional meetings, one in the UK and one in the US, following her return from Israel.

In a further development, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper reported that during her stay in the country she visited an Israeli military field hospital in the occupied Golan Heights.

In her letter Ms Patel said: "In recent days there have been a number of reports about my actions and I am sorry that these have served as a distraction from the work of the Department for International Development and of the Government as a whole.

"As you know from our discussions I accept that in meeting with organisations and politicians during a private holiday in Israel my actions fell below the high standards that are expected of a Secretary of State.

"While my actions were meant with the best of intentions, my actions also fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated."

The meetings, without officials and in relation to one of the most sensitive areas of foreign policy, led to Ms Patel apologising and being given a dressing down by Mrs May on Monday.

But the disclosures since then added to pressure on Ms Patel, culminating in a flight back from her curtailed Africa trip and a meeting in Downing Street lasting around 30 minutes during which it was made clear her Cabinet career was over.

In her reply to Ms Patel, Mrs May said: "As you know, the UK and Israel are close allies, and it is right that we should work closely together.

"But that must be done formally, and through official channels.

"That is why, when we met on Monday, I was glad to accept your apology and welcomed your clarification about the trip to Israel over the summer.

"Now that further details have come to light, it is right that you have decided to resign and adhere to the high standards of transparency and openness that you have advocated."

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 UK on a Kenya Airways flight to Heathrow.

Ms Patel's early return to the UK followed the disclosure that she met Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in Parliament on September 7, and foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York on September 18.

It is understood that Downing Street was told about the New York breakfast with Mr Rotem when Ms Patel revealed the details of her trip to Israel, but No 10 only learnt on Tuesday about the meeting with Mr Erdan.

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.

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.

Labour has already demanded an investigation by the Prime Minister's standards adviser into Ms Patel's meetings with the Israeli government, claiming they involved four "serious breaches" of the ministerial code.

Number 10 confirmed that Ms Patel had discussed the possibility of UK aid being used to support medical assistance for refugees from the Syrian civil war arriving in the Golan Heights.

However the Prime Minister's official spokesman was unable to say whether she had explained when she met Mrs May that the scheme would have involved supplying funding to the Israeli army.

On returning from Israel, Ms Patel commissioned work by DfID on disability, humanitarian and development partnerships between Israel and the UK.

Ms Patel only made Mrs May aware of the meetings on Friday, more than two months after they took place, when reports began to emerge of talks she held with a politician and a disability charity.

The minister apologised and admitted a "lack of precision" for suggesting last week that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson knew about the trip, and that only two meetings had taken place.

Press Association

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