Theresa May ‘still has full confidence in’ under-fire minister Priti Patel
She clarified her claim that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson “knew about the visit”, admitting he did not know about it in advance.
Theresa May still has full confidence in International Development Secretary Priti Patel despite having to give her a dressing down over a series of secret meetings in Israel, Downing Street said.
The Prime Minister was forced to remind Ms Patel of her obligations as a minister after she took time out from a family holiday to meet Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, other politicians, businesses and charities without telling the Foreign Office.
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.
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.
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
Labour called for a full investigation into whether Ms Patel broke the ministerial code and accused her of “misleading the British public”.
But she appears to have avoided the sack after going to Number 10 on Monday to apologise to Mrs May, who “reminded her of her obligations” under the ministerial code, the PM’s official spokesman said.
“The important point here is that no UK interests were damaged or affected by the meetings which took place and the Secretary of State has apologised for the way she handled this matter,” he told reporters.
“The code is not explicit in this area and one of the things which will follow from this is that the PM has asked the Cabinet Secretary (Sir Jeremy Heywood) to look at how the code can be made clearer in this respect.”
DFID sec Priti Patel has issued a statement about her family holiday to Israel, on which she had 12 meetings & engagements pic.twitter.com/Wvk5fg2zfX— Emily Ashton (@elashton) November 6, 2017
The meetings in Israel between August 13 and 25 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.
It followed a meeting with director general of the Israeli foreign ministry Yuval Rotem in which the pair discussed “prospects for partnership work between Israel and the UK on development and humanitarian issues”.
It also followed a meeting with charities Beit Issie Shapiro and Wheelchairs of Hope, which are dedicated to disability and social inclusion.
Ms Patel and Mr Netanyahu, who held talks with Mrs May in London last week before she found out about the meeting, discussed “prospects for closer collaboration”.
Asked whether PM has full confidence in Priti Patel, spokesman says: “Yes. The PM thinks she’s doing a good job.”— Emily Ashton (@elashton) November 6, 2017
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said there had been a “clear breach” of the ministerial code while shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor called for an investigation.
Ms Osamor said: “Today’s statement is a desperate last-ditch attempt by Priti Patel to save her job.
“It has now emerged that, contrary to her statement on Friday, the Foreign Secretary was never told in advance about her meetings in Israel – which we have only now discovered included meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with the Foreign Ministry.
“Not only does it look like she might have breached the ministerial code, she has now been caught misleading the British public. If she doesn’t now resign, then Theresa May must immediately refer the issue to the Cabinet Office for a full investigation.”
Apologising for her conduct, Ms Patel said: “This summer I travelled to Israel, on a family holiday paid for myself.
“While away, I had the opportunity to meet a number of people and organisations. I am publishing a list of who I met. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was aware of my visit while it was under way.
“In hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be misread, 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 apologise for it.
“My first and only aim as the Secretary of State for International Development is to put the interests of British taxpayers and the world’s poor at the front of our development work.”