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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

UK’s Priti Patel sorry for secret meetings with Israeli officials

The British secretary of state did not inform the Foreign Office in advance about the meetings, during which a number of issues, including India, were discussed.

world Updated: Nov 07, 2017 20:36 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Britain's secretary of state for international development at 10 Downing Street on October 31, 2017.
Britain's secretary of state for international development at 10 Downing Street on October 31, 2017.(AFP)

Britain’s international development secretary Priti Patel has apologised for holding several secret meetings during a family holiday in Israel in August, when she discussed India and funneling aid to Israeli forces with officials such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The meetings apparently amounted to a breach of the ministerial code, since the Foreign Office was not informed of them in advance. May said on Monday she had spoken to Patel, who had been “reminded of her obligations” as a cabinet minister.

Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday that Patel wanted to send aid money to the Israeli Army after the meetings. She reportedly asked officials from her department to examine whether public money could support humanitarian operations in occupied parts of the Golan Heights.

May’s spokesman said: “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.”

After her meetings raised eyebrows in London, Patel issued an apology: “This summer I travelled to Israel, on a family holiday paid for myself. While away I had the opportunity to meet a number of people and organisations. I am publishing a list of who I met.‎ The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was aware of my visit while it was underway.

“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.”

The apology statement included a list of people she met with a brief summary of the discussions. During the meeting with Netanyahu, she said they discussed her family background which included her parents fleeing Uganda in the 1970s and settling in Britain.

Patel’s statement said they discussed “India, given the secretary of state’s family background”.

The statement added the Foreign Office was aware of the visit while it was underway, but was not informed about it in advance. The Foreign Office, it said, was “clear that UK interests were not damaged or affected by the meetings on this visit”.

Former Conservative foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind told BBC the meeting were “extremely unwise”, and added: “Not only did she not tell the Foreign Office directly, so far as I’m aware the British embassy in Israel wasn’t aware that this was happening. Now that just shouldn’t be’s not just a question of courtesy.”

Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said there had been a “clear breach” of the ministerial code, while shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor called for an investigation, describing Patel’s apology as “a desperate last-ditch save her job”.

Trickett wrote to May, urging a full investigation into whether Patel broke the ministerial code. According to him, there were four serious breaches by Patel: openness, collective responsibility, responsibility to do only prime minister allocated duties, and honesty.