Cabinet minister in the British government, Priti Patel, on Thursday resigned from her post over charges of impropriety, involving unauthorised secret meetings with Israeli politicians. Patel was the senior-most minister of Indian origin in Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet. Patel’s position as international development minister had become increasingly untenable after it emerged that she had meetings with Israeli officials that were not disclosed through the proper procedure.
In her resignation, Patel again apologised and said her actions “fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated”. It follows a week of controversies around a dozen undisclosed meetings she had with other Israelis, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Her departure from the Cabinet marks an abrupt halt to the meteoric rise of the Gujarati-origin MP, often touted as a potential future leader of the Conservative party and a prime ministerial candidate.
Often described as a Thatcherite, the 45-year-old was elected as a Conservative MP for Witham in Essex in 2010 and gained prominence in the then David Cameron-led Tory government as his ‘Indian Diaspora Champion’. She went on to be appointed to junior ministerial posts, treasury minister in 2014 and then employment minister after the 2015 general election, before May promoted her to the secretary of state post in the department for international development (DfID) last year.
A longstanding Eurosceptic, Patel is among the most vocal supporters of Brexit and had steered the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign in the lead up to the June 2016 referendum in favour of Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU).
Patel’s supporters believe foreign secretary Boris Johnson is the biggest gainer from her fall into the political abyss. Johnson was reportedly one of the government ministers who leaked details of Patel's secret Israeli meetings to sabotage her prospects of leading the party. Johnson and Patel had differences over how to spend Britain’s £13 billion aid budget.
She must have hoped that the storm around her undisclosed meetings in Israel would die down after a formal apology before she flew out to Africa for an official tour of Uganda and Ethiopia yesterday.
But she was unable to attend any of the scheduled meetings as she was ordered to abandon the visit and fly back to London today “at the request of the prime minister”.
Earlier this week, Downing Street had said that May had accepted Patel’s apology over a series of meetings while she was on holiday in Israel in August without reporting them to the Foreign Office. But new revelations of further meetings with Israeli officials following that visit had made Patel’s position within the Cabinet very precarious.
It is understood that she met Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan in the UK Parliament complex in early September and an Israeli foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York later that month. May was told about the unreported New York meeting during Patel’s apology conversation at Downing Street on Monday but only learned about her unreported meeting with Erdan after the talks.
Ministers are required to tell the UK Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas, but it emerged that British diplomats in Israel were not informed about any of Patel’s meetings.
With inputs from PTI
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