Tory minister Priti Patel is en route to Britain on Downing Street’s orders following a disclosure that while on “holiday” in Israel she held unauthorized meetings with politicians. It is widely expected she’ll be clearing her desk before day’s end.
The International Development Secretary’s fate appears to be sealed after details of two further secret meetings with Israeli officials emerged on top of the 12 previously revealed. As well as meeting with officials including PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel in August, it is now claimed she met with public security minister Gilad Erdan at Westminster and foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York in September.
It is understood Downing Street was told about the New York breakfast with Rotem when she disclosed the details of her Israel trip, but Number 10 only learnt on Tuesday about the meeting with Erdan. No British officials were present and, as with her meetings in Israel, she did not report them to the government or Foreign Office in the usual way.
Downing Street has dismissed claims made in the Jewish Chronicle that Patel was told by Number 10 not to officially note the extra meetings so as not to embarrass the Foreign Office. Citing two unnamed sources, the newspaper said although Patel’s meeting with Netanyahu was not authorized in advance, the British government was made aware of it within hours.
Patel was accompanied at all the meetings bar one by the honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobbying group, Lord Polak. No minutes were taken.
Before these extra meetings were revealed, Downing Street insisted May had confidence in Patel, who was in Africa with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. She is now understood to be on her way back from Nairobi on Wednesday to be formally dismissed, according to the BBC.
Downing Street’s stance on Patel appeared to change when it was revealed on Tuesday that Patel had tried to divert British taxpayer’s money to the Israeli Army. Officially, Britain accuses Israel of occupying in the disputed Golan Heights territory illegally.
Labour is demanding an investigation by the Prime Minister’s standards advisor into Patel’s meetings with the Israeli government, claiming they involve four “serious breaches” of the ministerial code. In a letter to May, shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said she should either call in her independent advisor on ministerial standards or “state publicly and explain your full reasons for why Priti Patel retains your confidence despite clear breaches of the ministerial code.”