In further signs that Theresa May has lost control of her party, new revelations have emerged that have made many question the Prime Minister’s decision not to sack hapless Development Minister Priti Patel.
There were calls for many quarters for Patel to be sacked for breach of ministerial code after it emerged that she had used what appeared to be a family holiday this summer for secret meetings with 12 Israeli politicians including premier Binyamin Netanyahu.
She had kept the meetings hidden from the foreign office. On her return the International Development Secretary suggested some UK aid money be diverted to the Israeli army for humanitarian operations in the Golan Heights.
This was a major gaffe by Patel as civil servants explained that Britain like many countries does not recognise the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights – territory that belonged to Syria. Many pointed out that the minister had breached Ministerial Code as she did not disclose these meetings to Downing Street or the Foreign Office.
Despite pressure from Labour to sack the International Development Minister as well as gaffe- prone Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister had called Patel to Downing Street where she was reported to have apologised.
However Patel is now flying back to the UK from Uganda today before her official engagements there could take place after it turns out that that there were further meetings with Israeli ministers that she did not disclose to Downing Street or the Foreign Office.
Prime Minister Theresa May had admitted that she did not know about Patel’s off-the-radar high-level meetings this summer, but now her future hangs in the balance with last night’s new revelations.
Patel met two ministers again this autumn: Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in Parliament on September 7 and foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York on September 18.
As in the Summer meetings, it appears no British officials accompanied Priti Patel, and she did not mention them to the Foreign Office or Government as ministerial procedure dictates.
Patel was however accompanied to most of the meetings in Israel by a lobbyist. – Honorary president of the Conservative Friends for Israel lobbying group Lord Polak.
Yesterday Manuel Hassassian, ambassador at the Palestinian Mission in the UK, told the Evening Standard that Patel’s secret talks would cause “great concern to the Palestinians” and believed it was a “clear breach” of the Government’s ministerial code.
He said: “If the present Conservative Government is committed to a two-state solution and the Secretary of State for International Development, as part of the Government, is truly committed to this, why did she not visit Palestinian officials also?
“ – Imagine, though, the uproar if she had done this without the Prime Minister’s knowledge.”
While many in Westminster found her behaviour bizarre, formerly disgraced International Trade Secretary Liam Fox insisted that there was nothing “forbidden” in her actions.
“I find it utterly unsurprising that the international aid secretary would want to talk to charities while she is on holiday in a particular area about whether or not we can use the British aid budget to diminish the humanitarian problems of people in that area,” he said.
However Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett wrote to Theresa May demanding that 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”.
And Trickett compared the affair to the breaches of Ministerial Code that had forced Liam Fox to resign as Defence Secretary in 2011, before Theresa May had brought him back into the cabinet.
Liam Fox’s disgraceful breaches of the Ministerial Code had involved his bizarre relationship with his best man and business associate Adam Werritty who accompanied him on foreign business trips and even defence meetings. The unofficial adviser shared hotel rooms with Fox as well as joint investments in the healthcare consultancy firm UK Health.
The shadow Cabinet Office minister wrote to Theresa May saying that Priti Patel too “could have breached the Ministerial Code, which states “ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public interests, financial or otherwise.”
The Labour MP for Hemsworth in West Yorkshire added: “I am reminded of the case involving Liam Fox and Adam Werritty, where it was found that the latter was accompanying the former Defence Secretary to official defence meetings. You may recall that Mr Fox had to resign.”
“There has been speculation on whether Priti Patel made commitments on foreign policy,” Jon Trickett wrote, adding: “The British public have many legitimate concerns about whether politicians live up to the high standards rightly demanded of them, as well as about the influence of lobbyists over formation of policy.
“This will inevitably raise questions abbot the impunity with which Secretaries of State feel they can act in your government. And the public may also question the strength of this government if no action is taken.”
Theresa May’s lack of authority or ability to discipline her party have been questioned after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was let off the hook for another blunder – this time saying that a British mum locked up by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on a holiday in Iran was teaching journalism – an untrue assertion that had her hauled back into court to face an extra five years in an Iranian jail.
A senior Conservative MP told political correspondent Michael Crick: “Boris is an f****** disgrace and if he had an ounce of integrity – which he doesn’t – he’d have walked immediately.”
Theresa May is also coming under mounting pressure for the lack of resignations and suspensions despite a mounting sex scandal with dozens of her MP’s facing allegations.
Asked if her Development minister had the PM’s full confidence last night, Theresa May had said “I spoke to Priti Patel today. She has explained and clarified the visit to Israel that she made, and I have accepted the apology that she has given for the way she handled that particular visit. And I have spoken to her about the Ministerial Code and about the implications of Ministerial Code.”