Priti Patel ordered back to UK after more Israel meetings revealed

Priti Patel has been ordered back to the UK.
Priti Patel has been ordered back to the UK.
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International Development Secretary Priti Patel has been ordered back to Britain following the disclosure that she held further unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians during a holiday to the country.

'Unless Ministers are made to answer for their actions, the electorate’s verdict will be a damning one'

Ms Patel - who began a three-day visit to Africa on Tuesday - is flying back to the UK after being summoned by Theresa May to explain herself, sources said.

It follows her mea culpa about 12 undisclosed meetings in Israel, including with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is understood Ms Patel met Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in Parliament on September 7, and foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York on September 18, following the August meetings in Israel.

It is understood that Downing Street was told about the New York breakfast with Mr Rotem when Ms Patel revealed the details of her trip to Israel, but No 10 only learnt on Tuesday about the meeting with Mr Erdan.

No British officials were present and like her meetings in Israel, she did not report them to the Foreign Office or Government in the usual way.

She was accompanied at all the meetings bar one in Israel by the honorary president of the Conservative Friends for Israel lobbying group, Lord Polak.

Labour has already demanded an investigation by the Prime Minister's standards adviser into Ms Patel's meetings with the Israeli government, claiming they involved four "serious breaches" of the ministerial code.

Before the extra meetings were revealed, Downing Street insisted Mrs May continued to have confidence in Ms Patel, who was in Africa with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, after giving her a dressing down on Monday over her trip to Israel.

Number 10 confirmed that Ms Patel had discussed the possibility of UK aid being used to support medical assistance for refugees from the Syrian civil war arriving in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

However the Prime Minister's official spokesman was unable to say whether she had explained when she met Mrs May that the scheme would have involved supplying funding to the Israeli army.

In a letter to Mrs May, shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said she should either call in her independent adviser on ministerial standards, Sir Alex Allen, or "state publicly and explain your full reasons for why Priti Patel retains your confidence despite clear breaches of the ministerial code".

Mr Trickett said there were "strong grounds" to believe Ms Patel had broken the code's requirements for openness, collective responsibility, honesty and performing only those duties allocated by the PM.

Labour sought to force Ms Patel to explain herself in the Commons by tabling an urgent question, but it was left to Middle East minister Alistair Burt to answer as MPs were told she had left on the trip to Africa.

He said Foreign Office officials in Israel had only become aware of her visit on August 24, after she was already in the country.

The Prime Minister was forced to remind Ms Patel of her obligations as a minister after it emerged that she took time out from a family holiday to meet Mr Netanyahu, other politicians, businesses and charities during a visit to Israel between August 13 and 25.

The meetings were arranged by Lord Polak.

On returning from her trip, Ms Patel commissioned Department for International Development (DfID) work on disability, humanitarian and development partnerships between Israel and the UK.

Ms Patel only made Mrs May aware of the meetings on Friday, more than two months after they took place, when reports began to emerge of talks she held with a politician and a disability charity.

The minister apologised and admitted a "lack of precision" for suggesting last week that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson knew about the trip, and that only two meetings had taken place.

Mrs May also took steps to tighten the ministerial code, asking Whitehall's top civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to look at how it can be clarified.