Witham MP Priti Patel has ministerial visit cancelled by prime minister in row over Israel meetings
PUBLISHED: 09:50 08 November 2017 | UPDATED: 10:34 08 November 2017
International development secretary Priti Patel – MP for Witham – has been ordered back to Britain by Theresa May to explain herself over unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians.
Ms Patel began a three-day visit to Africa on Tuesday, but Whitehall sources have said she is flying back to the UK to face questions over the incident.
It is understood Ms Patel held 12 undisclosed meetings while on a family holiday in Israel in August, including with the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is also believed 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, following the August meetings in Israel.
The meetings were not reported to the Foreign Office or Government in the usual way, and it is understood Downing Street was told about the New York meeting when Ms Patel revealed the details of her trip to Israel, but No 10 only learnt on Tuesday about the meeting with Mr Erdan.
She was accompanied at all the meetings bar one in Israel by the honorary president of the Conservative Friends for Israel lobbying group, Lord Polak, who arranged the meetings.
Labour has already demanded an investigation by the Prime Minister’s standards adviser into the meetings, claiming they involved four “serious breaches” of the ministerial code.
Before the extra meetings were revealed, Downing Street insisted Mrs May continued to have confidence in Ms Patel, who was in Africa with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, after giving her a dressing down on Monday over her trip to Israel.
Number 10 confirmed 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 Israeli-occupied 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.
Labour sought to force Ms Patel to explain herself in the Commons by tabling an urgent question, but it was left to Middle East minister Alistair Burt to answer as MPs were told she had left on the trip to Africa.
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.
Mrs May also took steps to tighten the ministerial code, asking Whitehall’s top civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to look at how it can be clarified.