Belfast Telegraph

Give Priti Patel a break, we all know what it's like to meet a foreign head of state down the campsite

By Mark Steel

Right, who's next? I'm putting money on Philip Hammond being forced to resign, when footage emerges of him running a dog-fighting gang in the woods outside Croydon.

He'll hang on for a couple of days, until it turns out he'd bought a five-bedroom house for the pit bulls and claimed it as a legitimate House of Commons expense, then he'll apologise for an "error of judgment" and we'll move on to Amber Rudd admitting to sacrificing frogs with devil-worshippers while she claimed to be meeting head teachers in Hastings.

As Theresa May insists: "She did nothing illegal and our tolerance of satanism proves what a diverse Cabinet we are.

"And the same goes for the revelation that Jeremy Hunt sold Swindon Hospital's Accident and Emergency Unit to Isis to pay off his gambling debts."

I personally sympathise with Priti Patel's story, that while it may appear she held secret meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister, she simply met him while she was out there on holiday.

I had a similar experience when I was 15. I went to Bournemouth camping with my parents, we bumped into the then Israeli leader Menachem Begin and couldn't shake him off the whole two weeks.

Eventually, he asked if he should go along with US President Jimmy Carter's peace plan and my dad snapped: "I don't bloody know, just take your shot," at the windmill hole on the crazy golf.

Then he used my ice-cream to draw his suggested border for the Golan Heights and my dad pledged never to buy an Israeli orange again for as long as he lived.

It was only when we went to get change for the amusement arcades and the man in the booth turned out to be Yasser Arafat that Begin finally left us alone.

Among the holiday chat that Priti Patel apparently engaged in with Benjamin Netanyahu was the prospect of channelling part of Britain's overseas aid budget to the Israeli military, towards the cost of providing refugee camps for Syrians.

What a generous gesture, because of all the institutions in the world that need financial assistance, none are more strapped for cash than the Israeli military.

Their budget this year was restricted to $18bn (£13.7bn); how are they supposed to scrape by on that? Priti must have seen harrowing film of Israeli generals queuing at food banks, meekly asking for a pound of mince and an F35 Lockheed Martin fighter jet, so it's heartening to know some politicians are willing to give up their holidays to help those less fortunate than themselves.

It's a quirky idea, this anarchist method of government, in which ministers do as they please without telling anyone else in the country. Maybe this is the real reason the Defence Minister resigned last week; he kept being annoyed by places he went on holiday to, so he declared war on them.

It must have made Cabinet meetings fun, when David Davis said: "I think we've got Denmark moving our way on a Brexit deal," then Michael Fallon said: "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I got the air force to bomb them this morning. Copenhagen's a right mess apparently. I hope that doesn't spoil things."

So, we should check where else Priti Patel went on holiday while she was minister. We might find that during a day trip to Margate, she held a meeting with the local police chief inspector, and gave him £50m for an aircraft carrier out of the overseas aid budget.

The whole lot stumble from one fiasco to another, so every time one of them announces they're going to Brussels, or considering a new law, anyone over 50 is reminded of watching Frank Spencer, and thinks: "Oh nooooo, what's going to happen now? Oh my God, I can't look."

Surely, it will end soon, when the DUP says: "We may be bigoted, creationist, shrieking loyalists, but being associated with the Tories is ruining our reputation."

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