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UK minister in hot soup for holding secret meetings with Israeli offcials

She's a longstanding critic of the European Union, has voted against gay marriage, campaigned against the smoking ban and is a longstanding supporter of Israael

UK minister in hot soup for holding secret meetings with Israeli offcials

She's a longstanding critic of the European Union, has voted against gay marriage, campaigned against the smoking ban and is a longstanding supporter of Israael

08 November 2017 Wednesday 21:35
UK minister in hot soup for holding secret meetings with Israeli offcials

A UK government minister has been ordered to return from a trip to Africa after it was revealed she held secret meetings with Israeli officials.

Priti Patel met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior figures while on a private holiday with her family in August.

She apologised on Monday, but there are now questions about further meetings held in September.

The opposition Labour party has said Ms Patel must be investigated or resign.

It is an unusual (and occasionally surreal) state of affairs, and may seem complicated, so let's take a step back.

Who is Priti Patel?

Priti Patel, 45, is a politician with the ruling Conservative Party, who has long been viewed as a rising star of the party.

She has had numerous roles in government, and in June 2016 was appointed Secretary of State for International Development. This means Ms Patel is responsible for overseas development and the UK's programme of assistance to developing countries.

It is fair to say Ms Patel is positioned on the right of the Conservative party. She is a longstanding critic of the European Union, has voted against gay marriage, campaigned against the smoking ban, and is a long-standing supporter of Israel.

What has she done?

Last week, the BBC revealed that Ms Patel held a number of undisclosed meetings with business and political figures during a family holiday to Israel in August.

She met the leader of one of Israel's main political parties and made visits to several organisations where official government business was reportedly discussed.

This is unusual, because ministers are supposed to tell the government when they are conducting official business overseas.

After the visit, Ms Patel suggested some of Britain's aid budget go to the Israeli army. She also asked her officials to see if Britain could support humanitarian operations conducted by the Israeli army in the occupied Golan Heights area.

That request was labelled as "inappropriate" by government officials. The UK, like other members of the international community, has never recognised Israeli control of the Golan Heights, an area seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Rolling updates: Priti Patel under pressure

What has the response been?

Ms Patel apologised for not informing the Foreign Office of the meetings and for suggesting Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, knew about her plans in advance of the visit.

"In hindsight, I can see...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.

The government welcomed Ms Patel's "clarification" and said Prime Minister Theresa May had "reminded her" of her obligations. One Foreign Office minister defended the meetings, and said government policy did not change as a result of the trip.

The opposition Labour Party said Ms Patel must be investigated or "do the decent thing and resign". Labour politician Kate Osamor branded it a "black and white case" of the ministerial code being broken.

Ms Patel has also been derided on social media, with some questioning how a family holiday can possibly include meeting a world leader.

After the visit, Ms Patel suggested some of Britain's aid budget go to the Israeli army. She also asked her officials to see if Britain could support humanitarian operations conducted by the Israeli army in the occupied Golan Heights area.

That request was labelled as "inappropriate" by government officials. The UK, like other members of the international community, has never recognised Israeli control of the Golan Heights, an area seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

What has the response been?

Ms Patel apologised for not informing the Foreign Office of the meetings and for suggesting Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, knew about her plans in advance of the visit.

"In hindsight, I can see...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.

The government welcomed Ms Patel's "clarification" and said Prime Minister Theresa May had "reminded her" of her obligations. One Foreign Office minister defended the meetings, and said government policy did not change as a result of the trip.

The opposition Labour Party said Ms Patel must be investigated or "do the decent thing and resign". Labour politician Kate Osamor branded it a "black and white case" of the ministerial code being broken.

Ms Patel has also been derided on social media, with some questioning how a family holiday can possibly include meeting a world leader.

What will happen next?

There are fairly regular developments, many of which have made life difficult for Ms Patel, the government or both.

It emerged that Ms Patel had two further meetings in September without government officials. She met the Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in Westminster and Israeli foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York.

To complicate matters, a story published by the Jewish Chronicle said the government was aware of the New York meeting and told Ms Patel not to disclose it. The government has denied this.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg (the only person you need to follow for updates on this story) said that "revelations about more extra-curricular meetings" mean that "if May doesn't sack her now it's an ongoing sore that smacks of weakness".

Following the revelations, Ms Patel cut short an official trip to Uganda to fly back to the UK. At one point on Wednesday, thousands of eager people ended up tracking her flight home.

Now she's back in London, Ms Patel is likely to meet Theresa May later on Wednesday. And here's the interesting context: Ms Patel is the second cabinet minister the prime minister has faced calls to sack in recent days.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson landed himself in trouble after he wrongly said a British-Iranian woman held in Iran was "teaching journalism", leading to fears she could have her prison sentence doubled.

That followed the resignation of Sir Michael Fallon as defence secretary after allegations were made about his behaviour.

The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg says that the government is "so fragile" at present, that "if there is a way to keep Patel that doesn't look insane they might go for it".

For now, we are waiting to see what Theresa May will opt to do.

BBC

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