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Patel’s Cabinet future hangs in balance over Israel trip row

Thursday, November 09, 2017
By Aditi Khanna

London: Priti Patel, Britain's senior-most Indian-origin minister could be sacked from the Cabinet after it emerged that she misled Prime Minister Theresa May over further unauthorised secret meetings with Israeli politicians, according to media reports today.

Patel, the international development minister, has cut short an official trip to Uganda and Ethiopia to rush back to London "at the request of the Prime Minister".

The 45-year-old minister's sudden return comes after her department admitted that Patel held two further meetings in September – which she failed to disclose when rebuked by May on Monday.

Downing Street, which has declined to comment further on the matter, had earlier said that Prime Minister May had accepted Patel's apology over a series of meetings while she was on a holiday in Israel in August, without reporting them to the Foreign Office.

But new revelations about her further meetings with Israeli officials following that visit have made her position within the Cabinet very precarious, British media reported.

It is understood that Patel met Israel's public security minister, Gilad Erdan, in the UK Parliament complex in early September and an Israeli foreign ministry official, Yuval Rotem, in New York later that month.

May was reportedly told about the unreported New York meeting during Patel's apology conversation at Downing Street on Monday but only learned about the unreported meeting with Erdan after the talks yesterday.

Ministers are required to tell the UK Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas, but it had emerged that British diplomats in Israel were not informed about any of Patel's meetings – which included a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political figures as well as charity organisations.

Opposition parties have been calling for Patel's resignation as the minister in charge of the Department for International Development (DfID) and the country's aid budget if it emerges that she breached the ministerial code of conduct.

Patel, the Conservative party MP for Witham in Essex, had issued an apology on Monday and attributed the unreported meetings to "enthusiasm".

"In hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be mis-read, 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," Patel said in her apology statement.

Her conduct had already led May to direct her Cabinet Office to look into tightening the ministerial code of conduct to avoid any such incidents in the future.

Downing Street was also forced to deny that Patel's meetings in Israel had led to any change of political stance on the region after it emerged that in the wake of her visit in August, Patel had discussed potentially providing some of Britain's aid money to Israel's armed forces which run field hospitals in the Golan Heights area.

Britain does not officially recognise Israeli occupation of the area and DfID was reportedly advised against any such move.

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