Priti Patel apologises for meeting with Israeli politicians while on family holiday

Apology comes after Theresa May hauls in the International Development Secretary to rebuke her

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 06 November 2017 15:34 GMT
Ministers are supposed to tell the Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas
Ministers are supposed to tell the Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas (Paul Ellis/AFP)

Priti Patel has apologised after allegations that she broke ministerial rules by holding official meetings while on “holiday” in Israel.

The International Development Secretary admitted the Foreign Office was “not informed” about the meetings, three days after saying Boris Johnson had known about it.

In a statement, Ms Patel said she met Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, during the controversial trip – also without telling the Foreign Office.

That was one of an astonishing 12 meetings she held, while on the 13-day August “holiday”, including with the head of the Israeli foreign ministry and the public security minister.

Ministers are supposed to tell the Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas, but British diplomats in Israel were not informed in advance.

Opposition parties have already suggested she will have to resign if it is shown she has breached the ministerial code of conduct.

Last Friday, Ms Patel told a reporter: “Boris knew about the visit. The point is that the Foreign Office did know about this, Boris knew about [the trip].”

But, in a fresh statement, she acknowledged the Foreign Office was only “aware of my visit while it was underway‎”.

Ms Patel said: “In hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be mis-read, 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.”

It was revealed that the apology came after Theresa May hauled in the International Development Secretary to rebuke her.

A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister welcomes the Secretary of State's clarification about her trip to Israel and has accepted her apology for her handling of the matter.

“The Prime Minister met the Secretary of State this morning to remind her of the obligations which exist under the ministerial code.”

The International Development Secretary said the meetings were arranged by Lord Polak, honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel, (CFI), which has close links with wealthy Tory donors.

The statement also revealed that the trip led to a policy shift, as she commissioned “work on humanitarian and development partnership between Israel and the UK”.

However, it insisted: “The FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] are clear that UK interests were not damaged or affected by the meetings on this visit.”

On Friday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman had brushed off the allegations, saying: “There is no investigation taking place.”

He insisted: “She was in Israel on a private holiday that the Secretary of State paid for herself.”

Ms Patel also met Yair Lapid, the leader of one of Israel’s main political parties. That was only revealed after he tweeted a photo of it and described the Cabinet minister as a “true friend of Israel”.

The statement said the talks with Mr Netanyahu had discussed “the Israeli domestic political scene”, as well as his “forthcoming visit to the UK”, which took place last week.

The pair also talked about “prospects for closer collaboration between Israel and the UK on development and humanitarian issues”.

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