Downing Street brushes off claims that Priti Patel's Israel 'holiday' broke ministerial rules

International Development Secretary conducted 'official departmental business' without telling the Foreign Office, it is alleged

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 03 November 2017 11:44 GMT
Priti Patel was in Israel 'on a private holiday, funded by herself'
Priti Patel was in Israel 'on a private holiday, funded by herself' (Getty)

No 10 has brushed off allegations that Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, broke ministerial rules on a visit to Israel, saying: “There is no investigation.”

The Cabinet minister is under fire for keeping the Foreign Office in the dark over political meetings where she was accompanied by an influential pro-Israeli Conservative lobbyist.

Ms Patel met Yair Lapid, the leader of one of Israel’s main political parties, and made visits to several organisations where official departmental business was discussed, the BBC claimed.

She was accompanied by Lord Polak, honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel, (CFI), which has close links with wealthy Tory donors, during the visit in August.

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

The Liberal Democrats seized on the revelation to argue the International Development Secretary would have to resign if it was shown she had breached the ministerial code of conduct.

“Priti Patel has made a grave error of judgement, which goes against the openness, accountability and scrutiny the work of a government minister demands,” said Shas Sheehan, the party’s International Development spokeswoman.

Theresa May’s spokesman acknowledged that Ms Patel had taken “the opportunity to meet some people and some organisations”.

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

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned by the allegations, he replied: “There is no investigation taking place.”

However, asked if it was true that Ms Patel had conduced government business while “on holiday”, the spokesman acknowledged: “I don’t know whether that is correct or not”.

And, asked if there was a possible issue concerning the ministerial code, he replied it “depends on the circumstances”, adding: “I don’t have a list of who she met.”

Ms Patel's office has not responded to a detailed list of questions concerning the visit to Israel.

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, backed his colleague, tweeting she was “a good friend & we work closely together for GLOBAL BRITAIN. Quite right that she meets w/ people & organisations overseas”.

Ms Patel’s meeting with Mr Lapid, on August 24, was only revealed after he tweeted a photo of it and described the Cabinet minister as a “true friend of Israel”.on.

According to a source who spoke with the BBC, at least one of the meetings was held at the suggestion of the Israeli ambassador to London.

Ms Patel, a potential future Tory leader is suspected of trying to win favour with wealthy pro-Israeli party donors and of conducting her own “freelance foreign policy” for Israel.

The code of conduct states “ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”.

Ms Sheehan added: “Shockingly, the Secretary of State has seemingly swanned off to Israel to pursue her personal career.

“Priti Patel now must answer questions over whether she has broken the ministerial code of conduct. If she has, her position as Secretary of State is untenable.”

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