Britain’s Indian-origin Cabinet minister Priti Patel stepped down as International Development Secretary on Wednesday after she failed to disclose her meetings with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Conservative Party MP resigned after she was summoned to 10 Downing Street by Prime Minister Theresa May.
In her resignation letter, the 45-year-old pro-Brexit lawmaker said her conduct “fell below the high standards that are expected of a secretary of state.” The Witham MP had been under pressure since it was revealed last week that she did not keep May or her colleagues in the loop about the 12 meetings she held with Israeli officials and business during a vacation in Israel in August, reported The Associated Press.
“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,” she said.
Protocol demands that ministers inform 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 – which included one with PM Netanyahu.
The British PM held that it was right for Patel to quit “and adhere to the high standards of transparency and openness that you have advocated.” May has also directed her Cabinet Office to look into tightening the ministerial code of conduct to avoid any such incidents in future, PTI reported. Also read | UK looks forward to secure new trade deal with India: Priti Patel
According to Israeli media reports, Patel visited an Israeli military field hospital at the Golan Heights during her August trip. Britain doesn’t recognise Golan Heights as an Israeli territory. By breaching the ministers’ code of conduct, Patel has been accused of a major diplomatic gaffe in a highly politically sensitive region.
Labour Party lawmaker Jonathan Ashworth said Patel’s position was untenable even if she had been unaware she was breaking rules when she met Netanyahu and the others. “If she didn’t know, she’s incompetent. If she did, she’s lying,” he told Sky News. “Either way she’s got to go.”
When the news broke in August, Patel said Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson “knew about the visit.” However, her department was later forced to clarify the statement, saying “the foreign secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it.”
Details of two more meetings emerged recently, forcing May to summon Patel back from her trip. According to reports, Patel met Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in London on September 7 and foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York on September 18 — without any other British officials present in either of the meetings.
Patel – whose parents, Sushil and Anjana, were immigrants originally from Gujarat — was first elected to Parliament in 2010. She became the international development secretary in 2016 and has often been mentioned as a future leadership contender.