Priti Patel set to be sacked after 'misleading Theresa May' over more secret Israeli meetings

Trip to Africa has been cut short for a second confrontation with a furious Prime Minister in Downing Street

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 08 November 2017 09:26
comments
Priti Patel set to be sacked

Priti Patel is expected to be sacked later today after evidence that she misled Theresa May over further secret meetings with Israeli politicians.

The International Development Secretary has cut short a trip to Africa to rush back for a second confrontation with a furious Prime Minister in Downing Street.

Her sudden return comes after her department admitted Ms Patel held two further meetings in September – which she failed to disclose when rebuked by Ms May on Monday.

One was with an official from Israeli foreign ministry and the other – held on the House of Commons terrace – with the minister for public security.

It is believed no UK government officials were present, but Ms Patel was accompanied by the president of the powerful Conservative Friends of Israel lobby group.

Fresh evidence also emerged to suggest the Cabinet minister deliberately avoided facing questions in the Commons on Tuesday, by bringing forward her flight to Kenya.

No 10 declined to comment on the latest revelations, but - given Ms Patel will not be back in Britain until the end of the day – there was speculation she could be dismissed on the flight.

Ms Patel’s position was already crumbling after it emerged she failed to tell Ms May about her plan to funnel UK foreign aid cash to the Israeli army.

The Prime Minister had demanded full details of her staggering 12 meetings during a 13-day “holiday” in August – including with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

The Foreign Office rejected the aid proposal, because it involved humanitarian operations in the Golan Heights, illegally occupied by Israel since 1967.

The Department for International Development (DfiD) has now revealed the further September meetings, with Gilad Erdan, the public security minister, and Yuval Rotem, the foreign ministry official.

Neither meeting was arranged or later reported in a way which accorded with proper procedures, sources at the department said.

Once a potential future Tory leader, Ms Patel is accused of effectively running her own foreign policy, in the critical and ultra-sensitive Middle East region.

Ministers are supposed to tell the Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas, in order to avoid foreign governments receiving conflicting messages.

Ms Patel is also suspected of trying to win favour with wealthy pro-Israeli party donors, after Lord Polak, of the Friends of Israel group, sat in on the talks.

Labour has accused her of “misleading the British public”, because she admitted the Foreign Office was “not informed” about the meetings – three days after claiming it had been told.

The Prime Minister is certain to face accusations that her government is falling part, after she was forced to sack Michael Fallon, last week, over sexual harassment allegations.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is facing calls to resign after his blunder left British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe facing a potential longer jail term on spying charges in Iran.

Two further ministers, Damian Green – Ms May’s effective deputy - and Mark Garnier, face Cabinet Office investigations over inappropriate behaviour.

There was fresh anger when Ms Patel failed to turn up to answer questions from MPs about the meetings, because she was “in the air”, en route to Africa.

The trip was a joint engagement with Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary – but Dr Fox was still in Britain early on Tuesday , carrying out a series of media interviews.

It appeared that Ms Patel was originally booked on a flight at 5.25pm, which would have allowed to answer the “urgent question” in the Commons.

Instead, she left the country at 10.10am, meaning her deputy, Alistair Burt, had to field angry questions - while Ms Patel's staff took the overnight flight she had been scheduled to catch.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments