UK cabinet minister Priti Patel resigns over secret Israel meetings

Chris J Ratcliffe / AFP | Britain's International Development Secretary Priti Patel arrives to attend a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London, on September 21, 2017.

The UK's international development secretary cut short her trip to Africa and resigned on Wednesday amid criticism over unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians, including the prime minister.


Priti Patel flew back to London after Prime Minister Theresa May ordered her to return. In her resignation letter, Patel said her actions had fallen "below the
high standards that are expected". May responded in a letter to say she believed Patel's decision was "right".

The plane carrying Patel from Nairobi, Kenya, landed at Heathrow Airport in mid-afternoon. She was filmed getting into a ministerial car, which was followed by a news helicopter as it drove into London.

Patel had been under pressure since it was revealed that she held 12 meetings with Israeli groups and officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a vacation in Israel in August – and that she hadn't told May or colleagues about it.

The meetings were arranged by Stuart Polak, a corporate lobbyist, member of the House of Lords and honorary president of the group Conservative Friends of Israel.

'Enthusiasm to engage'

Patel had said the meetings stemmed from her "enthusiasm to engage", but critics accused her of breaching ministers' code of conduct and making a major diplomatic gaffe.

After the visit, Patel discussed with her department the possibility of British aid being given to the Israeli army to support medical assistance for refugees from the Syrian civil war arriving in the Golan Heights.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported Wednesday that Patel visited an Israeli military field hospital in the Golan Heights during her August trip. Britain regards Israel as illegally occupying the territory, which it captured from Syria in 1967.

Patel's situation has been made worse by her contradictory statements about the meetings.

When news broke about the August trip, Patel insisted that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson "knew about the visit". Her department was later forced to clarify the statement, saying "the foreign secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it".

Patel apologised, saying the meetings "did not accord with the usual procedures".

May summoned Patel to Downing Street after details of two more meetings emerged. She also met Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in London on September 7 and foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York on September 18 – in both cases without any other British officials present.

Patel, 45, has risen quickly through Conservative ranks since she was elected to Parliament in 2010. She has often been mentioned as a future leadership contender.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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