Theresa May will not sack Priti Patel for secret Israel meetings 'because no damage was done'

Prime Minister admits she did not know her cabinet minister met Benjamin Netanyahu until last Friday – more than two months later

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 06 November 2017 18:50 GMT
Priti Patel survives – despite allegations that her secret meetings breached ministerial rules
Priti Patel survives – despite allegations that her secret meetings breached ministerial rules (Getty)

Priti Patel will not be sacked for meeting the Israeli Prime Minister without telling Theresa May because no “damage” was done, No 10 says.

Ms May has refused to dismiss – or even properly investigate – the International Development Secretary, despite a political outcry and calls for her to go, insisting the matter is closed.

The stance came despite Ms May’s spokesperson admitting the Prime Minister did not know her cabinet minister had met Benjamin Netanyahu until last Friday – more than two months later.

Downing Street also disputed whether Ms Patel had broken the ministerial code, by holding no less than 12 official meetings while on “holiday” in Israel, arguing the code was “not explicit”.

But Labour said Ms Patel had also “been caught misleading the British public”, in addition to carrying out government business with no officials present.

“If she doesn’t now resign, then Theresa May must immediately refer the issue to the Cabinet Office for a full investigation,” said Kate Osamor, Labour’s international development spokesperson.

The resignation call came after Ms Patel apologised for the meetings, following a face-to-face rebuke from Ms May.

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

The meeting with Mr Netanyahu was one of an astonishing 12 meetings during a 13-day visit, which included one with the Israeli Foreign Minister 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.

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 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.”

Ministers are usually investigated, by a Cabinet Office civil servant, even if there is only a perception that the code of conduct has been broken.

It states: “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests.”

But, asked if Ms Patel’s actions were a “resigning matter”, Ms May’s spokesperson 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.”

“The code is not explicit in this area and one of the things which will follow from this is that the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary to look at how the code can be made clearer in this respect.”

He added that the Foreign Office had assessed there had been no damage, but was unable to say how that was carried out – given the absence of officials from the meetings Ms Patel held.

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