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Civil servant quits over plot to 'take down' minister

By David Hughes

A civil servant has resigned after being caught on camera discussing with an Israeli embassy official how to "take down" a senior Government minister.

Maria Strizzolo has quit her post at the Skills Funding Agency after being filmed talking about Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan over dinner with the Israeli official.

Israel's ambassador to the UK Mark Regev has apologised for the "unacceptable" comments made by senior political officer Shai Masot, who suggested that Sir Alan was causing a "lot of problems".

Mr Masot also appeared to dismiss Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as "an idiot" during the conversation in a London restaurant which was secretly recorded by Al Jazeera.

Ms Strizzolo, a former aide to Tory Skills Minister Robert Halfon, is now understood to have resigned her civil service post. Labour has demanded an investigation into the extent of Israeli "interference" in British politics.

During the conversation at the Aubaine restaurant near the Israeli embassy in Kensington, west London, Mr Masot asked Ms Strizzolo: "Can I give you some names of MPs that I would suggest you take down?"

Ms Strizzolo replied that all MPs have "something they're trying to hide" and Mr Masot responded by saying "I have some MPs", adding "she knows which MPs I want to take down" before specifying "the deputy foreign minister".

Sir Alan, who has been critical of Israeli policies, was seen as more of a problem than Mr Johnson, who was "basically good", according to Mr Masot in a transcript of the conversation.

"He just doesn't care. He is an idiot but has become minister of foreign affairs without any responsibilities. If something real happened it won't be his fault... it will be Alan Duncan.

"Duncan is impossible to rebuff ... he has a lot of friends."

Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Crispin Blunt, who was also referred to by Mr Masot, told the Mail on Sunday the comments about Sir Alan were "outrageous".

Ms Strizzolo told the newspaper that her conversation with Mr Masot was "tongue-in-cheek and gossipy", adding: "Any suggestion that I ... could exert the type of influence you are suggesting is risible."

She said she knew Mr Masot "purely socially and as a friend. He is not someone with whom I have ever worked or had any political dealings beyond chatting about politics, as millions of people do, in a social context.

The Mail on Sunday also reported that the Al Jazeera investigation showed Mr Masot telling Labour MP Joan Ryan that he has obtained "more than £1m" to pay for sympathetic MPs from her party to visit Israel.

He also mocked "crazy" Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his "weirdo" supporters, the newspaper said.

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