UK’s Priti Patel likely be dropped over secret Israel meets
The international development secretary in the Theresa May government, Priti Patel, is facing flak for conducting what is called a freelance foreign policy.world Updated: Nov 08, 2017 09:32 IST
The international development secretary in the Theresa May government, Priti Patel, who is facing flak for conducting what is called a ‘freelance foreign policy’ was on Wednesday morning the subject of intense speculation that she may be dropped from the key post.
Patel, who is the only Indian-origin MP to hold a cabinet-level post in British political history, has apologised for holding 12 secret meetings in Israel while on a family holiday in August, including with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, breaking conventions and possibly the ministerial code.
The 45-year-old MP’s future in the government became increasingly uncertain when it emerged on Tuesday evening that she held two more meetings that did not follow procedures, adding grist to the Westminster mill.
Downing Street has already reprimanded her for the indiscretion.
Some of her fellow Conservative MPs remarked that Patel, known to be pro-Israel in the complex Middle East politics, may not be aware of all dimensions of the conflict when she later tried to send money to the Israel army for humanitarian work in Golan Heights.
Britain does not recognise Israel’s permanent presence in the Golan Heights, which was seized from Syria in the 1967 war. And, providing aid to the Israeli army in this occupied territory would be considered going against the British foreign policy.
“The secretary of state did discuss potential ways to provide medical support for Syrian refugees who are wounded and who cross into the Golan for aid. The Israeli army runs field hospitals there to care for Syrians wounded in the civil war. But there is no change in policy in the area. The UK does not provide any financial support to the Israeli army,” the prime minister’s spokesperson said.
Currently on an official trip to Africa, Patel discussed her Indian background and India with Netanyahu in Israel, according to the list of 12 meetings she said she had. The meetings were attributed to her “enthusiasm” in her apology statement.
“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.
The Guardian commented editorially on Wednesday: “As acts of insubordination to the prime minister and her government, this is hard to beat, and even Ms Patel must have known it. Almost incredibly, she nevertheless went ahead”.
“The Middle East is not New Zealand or Denmark, places where a mid-vacation courtesy call can perhaps be informal and unfreighted. The Middle East is the most intractable, adversarial and politically fractured place on the globe. Secret diplomacy by a minister in this manner is nothing less than mutinous,” it said.
Patel was not extended any support in the House of Commons by the ruling benches during an urgent discussion on Tuesday on her Israel meetings, as criticism mounted inside and outside the parliament. Labour called for an inquiry while May said she had been “reminded of her obligations” as a cabinet minister.
Her department for international development is one of few departments not subjected to severe funding cuts in recent years. Some of its activities intersect with those of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has led to some challenges.
Patel, a prominent pro-Brexit minister, has been in the forefront of the Conservative government’s interface with the Indian community in Britain since 2010, including at events during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK in November 2015.