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Conservative Cabinet Minister and International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, met the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netinyahu, and Yair Lapid – the leader of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid Party – along with other Israeli officials while she was on a personal holiday back in August.
Patel did not tell the Foreign Office she was going, and when she got back, she didn’t tell the Foreign Office that she had been.
You might wonder why it’s so wrong for a Member of Parliament to meet with Israeli politicians whilst they are on holiday.
There are a number of extremely serious reasons:
Firstly, Patel was accompanied to many of the secret meetings by a powerful pro-Israeli lobbyist, the Tory peer Lord Stuart Polak – the honorary President of Conservative Friends of Israel. No minutes were taken of what was said at the meetings, meaning any amount of underhand, off-the-record deals or personal favours could have been on the table – we will almost certainly never know.
Given that Patel is the Secretary of State for International Development, overseeing a massive international aid budget, as well as being Britain’s representative for the G7 and G20, and also sitting on the National Security Council, she is an extremely powerful politician with a significant amount of sway over Britain’s finance and policy decisions.
Patel broke the Ministerial Code by not informing the Foreign Office diplomats of her visitations – rules that are in place to ensure our politicians do not use their political positions for personal gain.
Furthermore, when details of the meetings were exposed in the press, Patel originally said that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had been aware of the meetings – and therefore not breaking the rules.
However, Patel has since apologised for making this claim as it has been exposed as a complete and utter lie.
In fact, in yet another display of Theresa May’s lack of control over her own Ministers, 10 Downing Street only found out about the secret meetings three months after they had happened.
The flailing Prime Minister, Mrs May, has tried her unconvincing best to assuage justifiable concerns over the whole debacle. Apparently she has given Priti a dressing down and “reminded her of the obligations which exist under the Ministerial Code”.
Of course she has. Of course she hasn’t fired the Secretary of State. Theresa May is trying hard to pull together her Cabinet amidst daily allegations of sexual assault, resignations, the Paradise Papers scandal and increasing public anger at the incompetence of herself and her Ministers.
The secret meeting comes amidst a power struggle between Patel’s Department of International Development and Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office; the former was carved out of the Foreign Office in the 1990s, and it appears BoJo wants it back under his purview, saying in October that it was:
a colossal mistake in the 1990s to divide the Department for International Development from the Foreign Office
British politics really is in disarray at present, and for a Minister to use that disarray to her own advantage is repugnant. For a servant of the people to hold meetings with foreign dignitaries without telling us, without telling even her own party, is risible.
Patel has defended her actions by saying she paid for the trip herself, it wasn’t on the public dime. But when we are ruled by millionaires, what is this meant to mean? She insists the conversations were purely chit-chat, because of course, when a pro-Israel British politician meets the creme de la creme of Israeli politics, it’s only to have a natter.
When she returned from her trip, Priti commissioned work from her Department on humanitarian and development partnerships between Israel and the UK. This might not sound too harmful, but when it comes to any Government work, the reasons for it must always be clear and transparent.
The Foreign Office have made clear that UK interests weren’t affected, but as with all things Tory, they miss the ideological in favour of the fleeting pragmatic. Allowing such underhandedness sets a dangerous precedent.
Indeed, Number 10 has now admitted that Priti discussed funnelling money to the Israeli army. It seems lies beget lies and all the beleaguered PM can do is try her best to hold on to her crumbling Government.
Imagine, for a second, that a Labour Shadow Minister met with Palestinian politicians. Imagine they did it on holiday and didn’t tell the relevant authorities. Do you think the right wing press would loosen their sweaty grip from Labour’s throats until that person had been professionally throttled?
Priti Patel is widely touted as a future Prime Minister, but when she is holding secret diplomatic meetings with a pro-Israel Tory lobbyist whilst acting as Secretary of State for International Development, she should not even be a Minister.
Theresa May is too concerned with holding the remnants of her sad excuse for a Government together, and is far too weak to do the right thing and fire Patel.
Theresa May isn’t going to enforce Ministerial standards unless the public put significant pressure on her. For her despicably shallow want of power, however pitiful, she is more than willing to allow another career-climbing snake to undermine her authority and make a mockery of Britain’s democracy.
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