- Carl Court / Getty
- Priti Patel resigns after admitting to unauthorised meetings with members of the Israeli government. The outgoing International Development Secretary held 12 meetings in Israel earlier this year without the prime minister’s permission. Revelations of a further two undisclosed meetings are understood to have forced May’s hand. Reports suggest Patel also visited Israeli-controlled land not recognised by the UK government. Patel is the second Conservative minister to leave the Cabinet in a week.
LONDON – International Development Secretary Priti Patel has resigned following further revelations about her secret meetings with senior figures in the Israeli government.
Patel was forced by Prime Minister Theresa May to fly back earlier today from a pre-planned visit to Africa, after further details emerged of undisclosed meetings she had held with members of the Israeli government and a Conservative lobbyist.
Patel met with May in Downing Street this evening after which she tendered her resignation.
In a letter to May, Patel apologised for being a “distraction” to the government:
“In recent days there have been a number of reports about my actions and I am sorry that I 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.”
“I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the government for what has happened and offer my resignation.”
The prime minister said in her reply that Patel’s resignation was justified:
“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 your 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.”
Exchange of letters between the Priti Patel and the Prime Minister. pic.twitter.com/CjvvOvvRK1
— Theo Usherwood (@theousherwood) November 8, 2017
The latest revelations followed the news that Patel had visited Israel in August this year for a “family holiday” in which she had also held 12 unauthorised meetings with senior Israeli figures, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Downing Street said the prime minister was not told about the meetings until Friday last week.
Patel had initially weathered the revelations, with Downing Street reluctant to lose another senior figure after the departure of the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon last week.
However, today it was revealed that Patel met with Gilad Erdan, the Israeli security minister, in parliament on September 7. She also met with Yuval Rotem, an official from the Israeli foreign ministry, at the UN general assembly in New York. The Conservative lobbyist and director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, Lord Polak, attended all but one of the meetings Patel held with senior Israeli figures.
Downing Street said Patel had failed to declare these meetings with the prime minister, even following the revelations about her Israel trip last week.
Asked by Business Insider on Tuesday whether Patel had had any further undisclosed meetings since her trip, a spokesperson for Theresa May said in a carefully worded statement: “The Secretary of State has been clear with Number 10 that on no other occasions while a minister has she organised meetings with foreign government ministers outside the normal channels while on holiday.”
They did not exclude that other meetings had taken place outside of her holidays.
More details about Patel’s trips to the Middle East have come to light in recent days.
It emerged on Tuesday that Patel had sought to authorise the payment of foreign aid to the Israeli Army, following the meetings. The foreign office said the request had been declined as it was “not appropriate.”
Today Israeli newspaper Haraaetz reports that Patel visited a hospital in the Golan Heights while in the Middle East. Diplomatic protocol prohibits British ministers from visiting the Golan Heights, a south-western region of Syria which Israel seized during the six-day war of 1967.
A UK statement to UN Human Rights Council in March reiterated Britain’s long-standing position that it is “unswerving in our conviction that the Golan Heights are occupied and do not recognise Israel’s annexation.”
Patel forced out
- Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty
May initially refused to act on Patel, declining all requests to launch an official Cabinet Office investigation into her. On Tuesday the Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said the prime minister considered the case on Patel “closed”.
Burt was forced to answer questions on Patel’s future on Tuesday after she took an earlier than scheduled flight in order to arrive at a pre-planned visit to Africa. Conservative backbenchers were notable in their absence in defending the International Defence Secretary.
As Patel flew back from her trip to Africa, her allies fought back accusing the Prime Minister of attempting to cover up their knowledge of the meetings, something vehemently denied by May’s spokesman.
“It’s not true that the prime minister knew about Priti’s meeting with Netanyahu before Friday,” a spokesperson said, adding that: “It’s also untrue that Number 10 asked DfiD to remove any meetings from the list that was published.”
Patel has become the second minister to leave the Cabinet in the space of a week. Last week Michael Fallon resigned as defence secretary after being accused of sexual misconduct in the scandal that has engulfed Westminster.