Priti Patel hinted UK aid cash could be handed to the Israeli Army during a secret summit on a ‘family holiday’ but Theresa May STILL won’t fire her

November 7, 2017 in News by Slad

 

Source: Daily Mail | By TIM SCULTHORPE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR FOR MAILONLINE and JAMES TAPSFIELD, POLITICAL EDITOR FOR MAILONLINE

  • Priti Patel met political leaders and lobbyists during a ‘private’ holiday to Israel
  • It is alleged official business was discussed without Foreign Office agreement
  • Minister has now admitted she met Israeli PM and Mr Johnson did not know
  • No official probe has been launched into potential breaches of ministerial code

Priti Patel said that UK aid cash could be handed to the Israeli Army during her secret meetings on a family holiday, Downing Street confirmed today.

Ms Patel suggested funding could be provided to the Israeli Army to help it fund a field hospital in the disputed Golan Heights territory on the Israel-Syria border.

Downing Street insisted today that no policy change was made after the Aid Secretary’s controversial dozen meetings during her trip in the summer.

Ms Patel has made a grovelling apology to Theresa May over the secret summit but still faces calls for her to go. No 10 admitted tonight Ms Patel did not disclose the policy suggestion of funding an Israeli Army field hospital to Mrs May yesterday.

The Prime Minister has refused to fire her Aid Secretary despite claims she brazenly broke the ministerial code in four ways and misled journalists about her activities.

Ms Patel swerved a summons to the House of Commons to answer questions on her secret summit as she is flying to Africa on a pre-arranged visit today.

Alistair Burt, sent to the Commons in Ms Patel’s absence, said the Aid Secretary was ‘in the air’ as he explained why she was not at the Despatch Box.

Shadow Aid Secretary Kate Osamor said Ms Patel should either be sent for a formal investigation or ‘do the decent thing and resign’.

Ms Patel’s deputy claimed they were ‘not particularly secret meetings’ and insisted: ‘If I were on a visit to Israel I would have wanted a schedule just like this.’

Mr Burt did admit he would have told Britain’s Israeli ambassador had he planned such a schedule.

Conservative MPs failed to rally behind Ms Patel during the Commons debate. The handful of Tory backbenchers who took part criticised her actions.

Priti Patel hinted that UK aid cash could be handed to the Israeli Army during her secret meetings on a family holiday, Downing Street confirmed today

Priti Patel hinted that UK aid cash could be handed to the Israeli Army during her secret meetings on a family holiday, Downing Street confirmed today

Theresa May (pictured leaving No 10 last night) summoned Ms Patel for a dressing down yesterday but has not sacked the minister despite the extraordinary revelations

Theresa May (pictured leaving No 10 last night) summoned Ms Patel for a dressing down yesterday but has not sacked the minister despite the extraordinary revelations

The first Mrs May knew of the mysterious talks – which included a private meeting with the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu – was when the BBC broke the story on Friday.

Ms Patel was summoned to explain herself in No 10 yesterday and was ‘reminded of her obligations’ No 10 said.

It emerged today that in one of the 12 secret meetings Ms Patel suggested UK aid money could fund an Israeli Army field hospital in the Golan Heights to provide treatment for Syrian refugees.

The Golan Heights are occupied by Israel and its sovereignty over the area is not recognised by the international community.

Mrs May’s official spokesman confirmed the issue of a field hospital was discussed by Ms Patel in her meetings.

He said: ‘The Secretary of State did discuss ways to provide medical support to Syrian refugees who are wounded and cross into the Golan Heights.

PATEL’S MEETINGS ON ‘FAMILY HOLIDAY’

Priti Patel held 12 seperate meetings and engagements on her ‘family holiday’ without officials and without clearing them through the usual channels:

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Yuval Rotem – Israeli Foreign Ministry
  • Gilad Erdan – Minister for Public Security, Information and Strategic Affairs
  • Yair Lapid – Leader of Yesh Atid
  • IsraAID – emergency humanitarian aid NGO
  • Dr Aliza Inbal – Pears Programme for Global Innovation
  • Dinner organised by the Pears Programme with Sivan Ya’ari – Innovation Africa, Glenn Yago – Milken Institute, Yosef Abramovitz – Energiya Global Capital, Mandie Winston – American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
  • Haim Taib – Mitrelli Group
  • Visit to Save a Child’s Heart
  • Dr Hirschfeld, Shimon Hefetz – Galilee International Management Institute
  • Meeting with a group of startups with a focus on Africa: Vital Capital, MobileODT, Equatel Health, Cassit Orthopedics, Ltd, NUFiltration Ltd, Fair Planet.
  • Jean Judes – Beit Issie Shapiro, and Pablo Kaplan – Wheelchairs of Hope

‘The Israeli Army runs field hospitals there to care for Syrians wounded in the civil war.

‘There is no change in policy in this area. The UK does not provide any financial support to the Israeli Army.’

Mrs May’s spokesman insisted Ms Patel was ‘absolutely clear’ in her meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday.

He said the new revelation was not a surprise to Downing Street and no policy change had been made.

The spokesman added: ‘The Secretary of State has been clear with No 10 that on no other occasions while a minister as she organised meetings with a foreign government minster outside the normal channels while on holiday.’

In the Commons, Ms Osamor demanded to know what Ms Patel had been up to on the trip while accompanied by Lord Polak, the honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel which lobbies on behalf of Israel.

She told MPs: ‘It is hard to think of a more black and white case of breaking the ministerial code of conduct but rather than change the minister, the Prime Minister somehow decided last night that it is the ministerial code itself that needs changing.’

Ms Osamor asked Mr Burt what was discussed in the meetings, and what ‘pressure’ Ms Patel applied on her department when she returned to the UK.

Ms Patel was offered negligible support from the Tory benches amid claims the minister was ‘defending the indefensible’.

Former minister Crispin Blunt went so far as to suggest Mr Burt should ‘take her, very gently, in hand’.

Sir Hugo Swire said the public wanted ‘transparency and accountability’. He also said that organisations that lobby ministers should open their books.

Alistair Burt, sent to the Commons (pictured) to explain the situation in Ms Patel's absence, said the Aid Secretary was 'in the air' as he explained her absence

Alistair Burt, sent to the Commons (pictured) to explain the situation in Ms Patel’s absence, said the Aid Secretary was ‘in the air’ as he explained her absence

Shadow Aid Secretary Kate Osamor (pictured in the Commons today) said Ms Patel should either be sent for a formal investigation or 'do the decent thing and resign'

Shadow Aid Secretary Kate Osamor (pictured in the Commons today) said Ms Patel should either be sent for a formal investigation or ‘do the decent thing and resign’

Chris Bryant, a Labour former minister, accused Ms Patel of having ‘misled the public’ and said of Mr Burt: ‘It’s a real shame that it’s the minister whose acting as an air raid shelter here to be honest, and I think if he reflects later he won’t be proud of what he’s done today.’

Mr Burt faced several questions over when Ms Patel made the Foreign Office aware of her meetings, with the minister replying: ‘My understanding is Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials became aware of (Ms Patel’s) private visit on August 24 during the course of her visit.

‘I don’t have the dates of all the meetings. I suspect it’s after the meetings took place but I believe it was (Ms Patel) who told the official abroad that she was there and she was having the visits.’

And in a letter to Mrs May, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said the PM 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’.

Mr Trickett said there were ‘strong grounds’ to believe that Ms Patel had broken the code’s requirements for openness, collective responsibility, honesty and performing only those duties allocated to them by the PM.

‘Given that it is reported you met Priti Patel yesterday and reminded her of her responsibilities under the ministerial code, I believe it important that either you or the Cabinet Secretary publicly set out whether you have determined that Priti Patel failed to adhere to the code and if that is the case, why she still remains a member of your Government,’ wrote Mr Trickett.

Former Conservative minister Crispin Blunt (pictured today in the Commons) went so far as to suggest Mr Burt should 'take her, very gently, in hand'

Former Conservative minister Crispin Blunt (pictured today in the Commons) went so far as to suggest Mr Burt should ‘take her, very gently, in hand’

As the extraordinary row broke yesterday, the International Development Secretary blamed her ‘enthusiasm to engage’ for her failure to Mrs May or Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about the dozen high-level encounters.

As well as saying sorry for the stunning breach of protocol, Mrs Patel was also forced to make an humiliating ‘clarification’ of comments last week in which she appeared to deny there were any more meetings to disclose.

The startling admissions immediately raised doubts about whether Mrs Patel can continue in her role – with Labour calling for her to quit and some senior Tories saying she would be ‘toast’ under normal circumstances.

One Conservative MP told MailOnline it showed that Mrs May’s authority among her top team was ‘completely shot’.

In a humiliating confession, Mrs Patel said in a statement on the DfID website: ‘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.

International Development secretary Priti Patel met Israeli officials during a 'private' holiday

Mr Johnson, pictured in Downing Street today, previously played down the row but there is thought to have been considerable anger behind the scenes

International Development secretary Priti Patel met Israeli officials during a ‘private’ holiday. Mr Johnson, pictured in Downing Street yesterday, previously played down the row but there is thought to have been considerable anger behind the scenes

‘In hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be mis-read, 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.

‘My first and only aim as the Secretary of State for International Development is to put the interests of British taxpayers and the world’s poor at the front of our development work.’

A Number 10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister welcomes the Secretary of State’s clarification about her trip to Israel and has accepted her apology for her handling of the matter.

‘The Prime Minister met the Secretary of State this morning to remind her of the obligations which exist under the Ministerial Code.’

Mrs Patel was accompanied by a Tory peer Lord Polak, who set up the meetings.

The statement suggested Mrs Patel had started to shift policy following her visit.

‘On her return from Israel, the Secretary of State commissioned Departmental work on humanitarian and development partnership between Israel and the UK, and on disability,’ it said.

Yesterday’s statement also ‘clarified’ two quotes given to the Guardian last week in which the minister sought to dismiss the row.

She was reported as saying that ‘Boris knew about the visit’, but embarrassingly conceded today: ‘This quote may have given the impression that the Secretary of State had informed the Foreign Secretary about the visit in advance.

‘The Secretary of State would like to take this opportunity to clarify that this was not the case. The Foreign Secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it.’

Mrs Patel also admitted that a quote in which she insisted ‘the stuff that is out there is it’ was ‘lacking in precision’.

‘This quote may be read as implying that the Secretary of State was saying that the meetings that had so far been publicly reported were the only ones which took place on her visit,’ the statement said.

‘The Secretary of State would like to take the opportunity to correct this impression: she is clear that other meetings also took place on her visit, in addition to those which had been publicly reported at the time of her making these statements.’

‘The FCO are clear that UK interests were not damaged or affected by the meetings on this visit.’

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was in London for talks with Mrs May and to mark a century a century since the Balfour Declaration. Mrs May did not know of the meeting between Mr Netanyahu and Ms Patel during the talks 

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was in London for talks with Mrs May and to mark a century a century since the Balfour Declaration. Mrs May did not know of the meeting between Mr Netanyahu and Ms Patel during the talks

Mrs May’s spokesman insisted the ministerial code was not explicit in the area of meetings with foreign leaders as he sought to explain why Ms Patel had not been referred to the Cabinet Office for investigation.

Asked why the Aid Secretary’s case was not referred while Mark Garnier was for sending his secretary to buy sex toys, the spokesman said ‘they are entirely different matters’.

Ms Patel did not offer to resign at the meeting with Mrs May, the PM’s spokesman said.

Asked how the Foreign Office has established since Friday morning the UK national interest was not damaged, Mrs May’s spokesman said only that officials were ‘clear’ it had not been.

Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Kate Osamor said Mrs Patel should resign or submit to a full investigation.

‘Today’s statement is a desperate last-ditch attempt by Priti Patel to save her job. It has now emerged that, contrary to her statement on Friday, the Foreign Secretary was never told in advance about her meetings in Israel – which we have only now discovered included meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with the Foreign Ministry,’ she said.

‘Not only does it look like she might have breached the Ministerial Code, she has now been caught misleading the British public.

‘If she doesn’t now resign, then Theresa May must immediately refer the issue to the Cabinet Office for a full investigation.’