Labour demands probe over Priti Patel’s meetings with Israel politicians
Downing Street insisted that Theresa May continues to have confidence in Ms Patel.
Labour have demanded an investigation by the Prime Minister’s standards adviser into International Development Secretary Priti Patel’s meetings with the Israeli government, claiming they involved four “serious breaches” of the ministerial code.
Downing Street insisted Theresa May continued to have confidence in Ms Patel, after she was given a dressing down on Monday over her decision to conduct a series of meetings, including one with Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without informing the Foreign Office.
Number 10 confirmed that Ms Patel had discussed the possibility of UK aid being used to support medical assistance for refugees from the Syrian civil war arriving in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
However the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was unable to say whether she had explained when she met Mrs May that the scheme would have involved supplying funding to the Israeli army.
“I don’t have precise detail on that beyond saying that she disclosed that she’d had conversations about humanitarian support,” the spokesman said.
“As to whether or not we ever had the conversation specifically about that particular aspect of foreign aid, it may well be that we didn’t.”
In a letter to Mrs May, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said she should either call in her independent adviser on ministerial standards Sir Alex Allen or “state publicly and explain your full reasons for why Priti Patel retains your confidence despite clear breaches of the ministerial code”.
Priti Patel forced to apologise over undisclosed Israel meetings. Admits FCO didn't know. PM should investigate clear breach of Min. code— Jon Trickett (@jon_trickett) November 6, 2017
Mr Trickett said there were “strong grounds” to believe that Ms Patel had broken the code’s requirements for openness, collective responsibility, honesty and performing only those duties allocated to them by the PM.
“Given that it is reported you met Priti Patel yesterday and reminded her of her responsibilities under the ministerial code, I believe it important that either you or the Cabinet Secretary publicly set out whether you have determined that Priti Patel failed to adhere to the code and if that is the case, why she still remains a member of your Government,” wrote Mr Trickett.
Labour sought to force Ms Patel to explain herself in the Commons by tabling an urgent question, but it was left to Middle East Minister Alistair Burt to answer as MPs were told she had left on a trip to Africa.
He said Foreign Office officials in Israel had only become aware of her visit on August 24, after she was already in the country.
“I don’t have the dates of all the meetings. I suspect it’s after the meetings took place but I believe it was (Ms Patel) who told the official abroad that she was there and she was having the visits,” he said.
The Prime Minister was forced to remind Ms Patel of her obligations as a minister after it emerged that she took time out from a family holiday to meet Mr Netanyahu, other politicians, businesses and charities during a visit to Israel between August 13 and 25.
“It is very clear – and Priti Patel was clear herself – that this was not handled in the proper way. That’s why she apologised,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said .
The meetings were arranged by the honorary president of the lobbying group Conservative Friends of Israel, Lord Polak, who also attended all but one.
On returning from her trip, Ms Patel commissioned Department for International Development (Dfid) work on disability and humanitarian and development partnerships between Israel and the UK.
Ms Patel only made Mrs May aware of the meetings on Friday, more than two months after they took place, when reports began to emerge of talks she held with a politician and a disability charity.
Great to meet with Priti Patel, UK Secretary of State for International Development, today. A true friend of Israel. pic.twitter.com/8q9qSeX7YZ— יאיר לפיד Yair Lapid (@yairlapid) August 24, 2017
The minister has apologised and admitted a “lack of precision” for suggesting last week that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson knew about the trip, and that only two meetings had taken place when she attended 12.
Mrs May also took steps to tighten the ministerial code, asking Whitehall’s top civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood to look at how it can be clarified.