UK minister apologises over 'undisclosed Israel meetings'

UK aid minister Priti Patel apologises over 'undisclosed Israel meetings'
4 min read
06 November, 2017
UK Aid Minister Patel has apologised after it emerged that she met with senior Israeli officials, including PM Binyamin Netanyahu, while on holiday in Israel without telling the Foreign Office.
Patel held undisclosed meetings in Israel during the summer while on holiday. [Getty]
UK International Development Secretary Priti Patel apologised on Monday after it emerged that she met with senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, while on holiday in Israel without telling the Foreign Office.

The controversy emerged on Friday when the BBC reported that Patel held undisclosed meetings in Israel during the summer while on holiday.

She was accompanied in several meetings by pro-Israel Conservative lobbyist Lord Polak.

Patel hit back at the accusations in comments to The Guardian, saying that the Foreign Office and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson "knew about the visit", which she says she paid for herself.

"I went out there, I paid for it. And there is nothing else to this. It is quite extraordinary. It is for the Foreign Office to go away and explain themselves," she told the newspaper.

On Monday, the department for international development put out an extraordinary statement clarifying Patel's remarks, saying Johnson did not know about the visit in advance.

"This quote may have given the impression that the secretary of state had informed the foreign secretary about the visit in advance," the department for international development statement read.

"The secretary of state would like to take this opportunity to clarify that this was not the case. The foreign secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it".

Later on Monday, Patel issued a statement apologising for not informing the Foreign Office about her visit and for suggesting Johnson knew about her trip in advance.

"In hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be mis-read, and how meetings were set up and reported in a way which did not accord with the usual procedures", the statement said.

"I am sorry for this and I apologise for it".

Patel was reprimanded by UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday, who welcomed the clarification about her trip to Israel.

"The prime minister met the secretary of state this morning to remind her of the obligations which exist under the ministerial code," a statement from Downing Street said.

'Breach of lobbying rules'

After news broke of Patel's meetings in Israel, Labour called for an investigation into whether she had breached rules on lobbying.

Labour MP Jon Trickett wrote a letter to Theresa May calling for a probe into whether "the ministerial code or lobbying rules were breached" as a result of her meetings.

Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Kate Osamor said Patel breached the ministerial code and was caught "misleading British public".

"If she doesn't resign, May must launch investigation," she wrote on Twitter.

"What does it say to the rest of the Middle East if a senior cabinet minister in charge of Britain's huge aid budget disappears for 48-hours from a family holiday in Israel and is under the wing of a pro-Israeli lobbyist?" one former minister told the BBC.

During the holiday in August, Patel was accompanied by Lord Polak, the honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) - an influential lobbying organisation which regularly organises for UK MPs and peers to visit Israel.

As part of Patel's clarification remarks on her visit she released details of who she met with and what was discussed.

The list included an introductory meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in which they discussed the "Israeli domestic political scene" and "prospects for closer collaboration between Israel and the UK on development and humanitarian issues".

Patel also met Yuval Rotem, the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Gilad Erdan, Israel's minister for public security, information and strategic affairs, and Yair Lapid, the leader of centrist party Yesh Atid.

The UK gives around £68 million ($89 million) a year to the occupied Palestinian territories, most of which comes from the Department for International Development's (DFID) budget.

Patel has long been critical of funding which goes directly to the Palestinian Authority and last year imposed stricter guidelines on funding.