Priti Patel apologises after holding meetings with senior Israeli figures on family holiday

Written by Agnes Chambre on 6 November 2017 in News

The International Development Secretary admitted failing to tell the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of her plans

Priti Patel: Picture credit - Matt Crossick/Empics Entertainment

Priti Patel has been forced to apologise for holding 12 meetings with senior Israeli figures - including the country's Prime Minister - while on a family holiday in the country.

In a statement, the International Development Secretary admitted failing to tell the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of her plans before going on the trip.

She also acknowledged that she may have misled the Guardian when it reported on her meetings last week by indicatating that the FCO knew in advance what she was doing.

Labour said Patel should quit or face a Cabinet Office probe into whether she broke the ministerial code. 

Today's statement, issued by Patel's department, confirms that Conservative peer and donor Lord Polack accompanied the minister on her meetings, which were held without any government officials present.

It also revealed that the Secretary of State commissioned work on humanitarian and development partnership between Israel and the UK, and on disability, when she returned to London.

Among those Patel met between the 13th and 25th of August were Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, foreign minister Yuval Rotem and security minister Gilad Erdan.

Patel told the Guardian on Friday: "Boris (Johnson) knew about the visit. The point is that the Foreign Office did know about this, Boris knew about [the trip]."

But the DfID statement said: "This quote may have given the impression that the Secretary of State had informed the Foreign Secretary about the visit in advance. The Secretary of State would like to take this opportunity to clarify that this was not the case. The Foreign Secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it."

Patel said: "In hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be misread, and how meetings were set up and reported in a way which did not accord with the usual procedures. I am sorry for this and I apologise for it.

"My first and only aim as the Secretary of State for International Development is to put the interests of British taxpayers and the world’s poor at the front of our development work."

Shadow International Development Secretary Kate Osamor told PoliticsHome: "Today's statement is a desperate last-ditch attempt by Priti Patel to save her job.

"Not only does it look like she breached the Ministerial Code, she has now been caught misleading the British public.

"If she doesn't now resign, then Theresa May must immediately refer the issue to the Cabinet Office for a full investigation."

The pro-Israel frontbencher sparked fury last week among Conservative colleagues, with claims she was trying to conduct her own “freelance foreign policy”.

Others claim Patel - who is said to have been accompanied by honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), Lord Polak - was seeking to win over wealthy pro-Israel Conservative donors who could finance a future Tory leadership campaign.

One minister told the BBC: "This is outrageous. She is a Cabinet minister. She just cannot do this. This is about donors and influence."

Another former minister said: "What does it say to the rest of the Middle East if a senior Cabinet minister in charge of Britain's huge aid budget disappears for 48 hours from a family holiday in Israel and is under the wing of a pro-Israeli lobbyist?"

One source said the British consulate in Jerusalem was "blindsided" and felt "slightly bruised".

A third Foreign Office source said: "We didn't know and would have expected to know, given the meetings she had."

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