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Essex Conservatives back Witham MP Priti Patel despite International Development Secretary resignation

PUBLISHED: 23:46 08 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:09 09 November 2017

Witham MP Priti Patel leaves Downing Street. Her resignation as international development secretary soon followed on November 8, 2017. Picture: AP PHOTO/FRANK AUGSTEIN.

Witham MP Priti Patel leaves Downing Street. Her resignation as international development secretary soon followed on November 8, 2017. Picture: AP PHOTO/FRANK AUGSTEIN.

Essex Conservatives backed Witham MP Priti Patel last night after she quit the Cabinet over her secret meetings with senior Israeli figures.

Ms Patel resigned as International Development Secretary and acknowledged her actions “fell below the high standards” expected.

Her downfall came after being summoned back from an official visit to Africa for a showdown with Theresa May in Downing Street to explain the disclosure of further unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Ms Patel said: “... 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 her meetings should have been arranged “formally and through official channels”.

Ms Patel held a series of 12 engagements with senior Israeli figures, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a holiday in the country in August. She also held two additional meetings, one in the UK and one in the US, after returning. It is also claimed that during her stay in the country she visited an Israeli military field hospital in the occupied Golan Heights. Britain, like other members of the international community, has never recognised Israeli control of the area, seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

But despite Ms Patel leaving her cabinet role and questions being asked about her judgement, last night the Witham Conservative constituency association chairman said he was “100% behind” her.

Mark Durham added: “As the constituency chairman my only concern is what Priti Patel does as a constituency MP, and my view – and that of the whole association – is that she is an exemplary constituency MP,” he said. “There are very few harder working constituency MPs, even given her role in cabinet.

“We met her on Saturday morning and all assured her we were 100% supportive. We know she places the importance of her constituency MP work higher than her ministerial role, and there’s not a lot that do that. Her record speaks for itself.”

Braintree district councillor Phil Barlow, who stood for Labour against Ms Patel in June’s general election, said her position was a cabinet minister was left “untenable”.

“It seems to me to be a clear breach of the ministerial code,” he said. “Whether you consider her actions misleading or deception, there’s a question of trust. If that’s how she is prepared to deal with her ministerial colleagues then can people trust her at a local level.”

On Twitter, Braintree MP James Cleverly wrote: “Priti Patel is a committed local MP, passionate Conservative, and longstanding friend but she made an error of judgment and did the right thing by standing down.”

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