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UK minister Patel could be sacked over Israel trip row

Press Trust of India  |  London 

Priti Patel, Britain's senior-most Indian-origin minister could be sacked from the Cabinet after it emerged that she misled Prime Minister over further unauthorised secret meetings with Israeli politicians, according to media reports today.

Patel is set for a "face to face" meeting with May during which it is widely expected she will be fired or asked to step down.

The UK's international development minister has cut short an official trip to Uganda and Ethiopia to rush back to "at the request of the prime minister".

The 45-year-old minister's sudden return comes after her department admitted that Patel held two further meetings in September which she failed to disclose when rebuked by May on Monday.

Downing Street, which has declined to comment further on the matter, had earlier said that Prime Minister May had accepted Patel's apology over a series of meetings while she was on a holiday in in August, without reporting them to the Foreign Office.

But new revelations about her further meetings with Israeli officials following that visit have made her position within the Cabinet very precarious, British media reported.

It is understood that Patel met Israel's public security minister, Gilad Erdan, in the Parliament complex in early September and an Israeli foreign ministry official, Yuval Rotem, in New York later that month.

May was reportedly told about the unreported New York meeting during Patel's apology conversation at Downing Street on Monday but only learned about the unreported meeting with Erdan after the talks yesterday.

Ministers are required to tell the Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas, but it emerged that British diplomats in were not informed about any of Patel's meetings which included a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political figures as well as charity organisations.

Opposition parties have been calling for Patel's resignation as minister in charge of the Department for International Development (DfID) and the country's aid budget if it emerges that she breached the ministerial code of conduct.

In a letter to May, Labour's shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett had called on the premier to either call in her independent adviser on ministerial standards to investigate, or "state publicly and explain your full reasons for why Priti Patel retains your confidence".

Patel, the Conservative party MP for Witham in Essex, had issued an apology on Monday and attributed the unreported meetings to "enthusiasm".

"In hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be misread, and how meetings were set up and reported in a way which did not accord with the usual procedures. I am sorry for this and I apologise for it," Patel said in her apology statement.

Her conduct had already led May to direct her Cabinet Office to look into tightening the ministerial code of conduct to avoid any such incidents in the future.

Downing Street was also forced to deny that Patel's meetings in had led to any change of political stance on the region after it emerged that in the wake of her visit in August, she had discussed potentially providing some of Britain's aid money to Israel's armed forces which run field hospitals in the Golan Heights area.

does not officially recognise Israeli occupation of the area and DfID was reportedly advised against any such move.

Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, said the offer to send aid money to the Israeli army made a mockery of the British government's claim to be "pushing for a two-state solution".

"It was shocking for me a Cabinet minister breaking the ministerial protocol and meeting 12 officials, high-ranking, includingNetanyahu," he added.

Patel, a Conservative party MP since 2010, has beena longstanding supporter of Israel and also a former vice- chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel group.

Meanwhile, it is also being claimed that Patel deliberately avoided facing questions over the issue from MPs in the House of Commons yesterday, by bringing forward her flight to Kenya.

It was left to her junior, DfID minister of state for the Middle East Alistair Burt, to defend his boss' actions in Parliament.

"The meetings were not particularly secret...If I had gone to Israel, I would have wanted a schedule like this," he told MPs.

If Patel were to be sacked or forced to resign, May would lose a second senior minister within the space of a week, after Sir Michael Fallon stood down as defence minister amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards female journalists.

Another of her close Cabinet allies, first secretary of state Damian Green, is also under investigation over misconduct allegations and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been under fire over his handling of a case involving a British Iranian in prison in Tehran.

The prime minister has been desperate not to shake up her already tenuous hold on Downing Street ever since her decision to call a snap general election in June backfired and lost the Conservative party its majority in Parliament.

But she has been increasingly seen as a weak leader trying to steady a very shaky regime.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, November 09 2017. 00:22 IST