Priti Patel, the UK's international development secretary, has been rebuked by prime minister Theresa May for breaking stringent ministerial rules by attending official meetings in Israel during a "family holiday," which she later attempted to cover-up by denying they had happened — sparking calls for her resignation.
Priti Patel breached Ministerial Code, and now caught misleading British public. If she doesn't resign, May must launch investigation.— Kate Osamor (@KateOsamor) November 6, 2017
It's wild that Priti Patel attended months of meetings with Theresa May yet not once mentioned her date with Netanyahu. Why keep it secret?— Liam O'Hare (@Liam_O_Hare) November 6, 2017
As Ms. Patel issued an apology on Monday, November 6, surrounding the controversial trip during which she held 12 meetings, including one with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one cabinet minister voiced surprise she had kept her job, saying:
"Failure to disclose, caught lying, then admitting she commissioned policy… is a breach of propriety and proper practice. This was a full-visit program not a casual add-on to a holiday."
News surrounding the scale of the meetings which took place in August, involving also the head of the Israeli foreign ministry and the public security minister, has raised serious questions surrounding the secrecy of relations between both the British and Israel governments, according to a UK-Palestine official.
Mick Napier, secretary of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity campaign, voiced his "shock" surrounding the veil of secrecy now being cast around the talks, especially as no British diplomats were present or the foreign office even informed.
"The revelations, so far, about Priti Patel's secret meetings with Israeli government figures are astounding," Mr. Napier told Sputnik.
"That a minister can do as she does suggests Theresa May and Boris Johnson are held in contempt by at least one colleague. It comes on the heels of the Al Jazeera revelations about Israeli Embassy staff secretly organizing seven figure donations to their political allies and agents in the UK and discussing bringing down an insufficiently pro-Israel government minister," he added.
He insisted it must raise questions about secrecy in general in Israel's relations with the UK government.
"The most alarming and indeed sickening revelation was that Patel hoped to divert funds from the UK government aid budget to the Israeli army, an army chronically accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, for supposedly humanitarian work," Mr. Napier continued.
"All this while a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza includes people there having no access to safe water, hospitals and pharmacies lacking basic equipment and cancer patients dying because they can't get exit permits from the same Israeli army that Priti Patel wants to supply with humanitarian aid," he argued.
Details First Emerge
As details of Ms. Patel's meetings emerged on Friday, November 3, when it was revealed she met Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, as well as a disability charity, the minister insisted that the foreign secretary Boris Johnson had known about the visit.
In a fresh statement, however, she acknowledged the foreign office was only "aware of my visit while it was underway."
"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 apologize for it," Ms. Patel said.
The apology came after the British prime minister hauled her into Downing Street for an explanation.
"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. The prime minister met the secretary of state to remind her of the obligations which exist under the ministerial code," a No.10 spokesperson said.
Diplomats in the Dark
Ministers are supposed to inform the Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas, but this was not the case as British diplomats in Israel were unaware of Ms. Patel's plans.
The minister was accompanied by Lord Stuart Polak, the honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobbying group.
During several of the meetings, the international development secretary discussed "growing antisemitism in British politics," as well as look at the "prospects for partnership work" in the future.
She visited charities, non-government businesses and other organizations.
On her return from the visit, Ms. Patel commissioned her government department to work on humanitarian and development partnerships between Israel and Britain, and on disability.