Saturday, 18 November, 2017

UK's Priti Patel sorry for secret meetings with Israeli officials

PRITIPATEL Priti Patel speaking at the Jewish News-BICOM policy conference
Edmund Wade | 08 November, 2017, 00:39

She also held several meetings with representatives of charities and NGOs involved in aid and humanitarian work.

The International Development Secretary is under mounting pressure to explain her actions after it was revealed she held a series of meetings with Israeli government ministers without informing Downing Street.

The meetings were a potential breach of ministerial protocol.

Senior Conservatives believe Patel should be "toast", says The Daily Telegraph.

The meetings were arranged by the Conservative peer, and Conservative Friends of Israel honorary president, Lord Polak, who attended the majority of them.

Kate Osamor, the shadow worldwide development secretary, told the Commons on Tuesday that it was "hard to think of a more black and white case of breaking the ministerial code of conduct". The Foreign Office was aware of the visit while it was underway, but were not informed about it in advance.

Equally revealing is the revelation that at yesterday's Downing Street lobby briefing, the prime minister's spokesman confirmed that Prime Minister Theresa May did not know about any of the meetings until last Friday, some three months after they took place and one day after the prime minister held her own meeting with Netanyahu.

"I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be mis-read, and how meetings were set up and reported", Patel said in a statement. I am sorry for this and I apologise for it.

That she didn't report the meetings - which took place over two days - has sparked fears that Patel used her "holiday", in August, as a cover to surreptitiously discuss official United Kingdom government business with Israeli politicians and representatives of Israeli organisations.

On Monday, Ms Patel issued a statement to say her Tel Aviv meetings were to discuss "prospects for closer collaboration between Israel and the United Kingdom on development and humanitarian issues".

It emerged that Ms Patel tasked DFID officials to look at sending aid cash to the Israeli Army after holding talks with PM Benjamin Netanyahu during a holiday in the country.

Patel apologized for failing to comply with the usual procedures that oblige ministers to inform the British Foreign Office before doing official business overseas and said she regretted her statement that Foreign Minister Boris Johnson was aware of the visit in advance.

"The prime minister met the secretary of state this morning to remind her of the obligations which exist under the ministerial code".

A spokesperson for May's office said on Monday: "The prime minister welcomes the secretary of state's clarification about her trip to Israel and has accepted her apology for her handling of the matter".

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