Priti Patel forced out, leaving Government in turmoil
International Development Secretary quits over unofficial meetings with Israelis
International Development Secretary Priti Patel was forced to resign last night after repeatedly failing to disclose unofficial meetings she had with Israeli ministers, business people and lobbyists.
Ordered back from an official trip to Africa by Theresa May to explain fresh allegations that she broke ministerial rules and then lied about it, Patel was allowed to resign rather than be sacked, after a day that Newsnight said “made The Thick of It look like the Churchill Diaries”.
Patel had apologised to May on Monday after it emerged that she had held unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over the summer.
It later emerged that she had two further meetings without government officials present - one in New York with an official from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and the other with Israeli Security Minister Gilad Erdan, about which she had failed to tell Downing Street.
In her resignation letter, Patel, who has declared her ambition to one day be prime minister, once again apologised and said that her actions “fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated”.
Despite publically backing her minister less than 48 hours ago, May said Patel’s decision to go was “right” after “further details have come to light”.
Coming less than a week after Michael Fallon was forced to resign as defence secretary following allegations of sexual harassment, the departure of another cabinet minister throws up yet more problems for the Prime Minister.
The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg says that May, who hoped to earn back her authority through competence, and orderly government, “needs to restore a sense of calm after a chaotic week”.
“To convey even a limp grip on power, misbehaving ministers need to be brought in line, and a restive Tory party needs to be able to believe No. 10 has some capability left,” adds Kuenssberg.
At the same time, “the Prime Minister must try most importantly to preserve the delicate balance around the cabinet table”. That means maintaining the equilibrium between Brexiteers, who included Patel, and Remainers and those pushing for a soft Brexit.
In The Independent, Andrew Grice says that “May knew she would not have a shred of credibility left if she left Patel in her job, but her departure will not buy the Prime Minister much credit”. Allowing her to resign, rather than formally dismissing her, “will smack of weakness to some Tory MPs”.
Patel may be gone, but her actions and those of her cabinet colleagues could still have repercussions for Downing Street, as questions continue to mount about what the Prime Minister and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) knew, and when.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson says he has information that Patel met Foreign Office officials in Jerusalem, which he says makes it “impossible to sustain the claim that the FCO was not aware of Ms Patel’s presence in Israel”.
The Prime Minister has faced further criticism following a claim in The Jewish Chronicle that she had been told of the New York meeting by Patel but then told the cabinet minister not to disclose it.
With the ongoing sex scandal likely to claim more ministerial victims, the timing of the Patel saga is unhelpful. A full-scale reshuffle “is May’s last chance to create a functioning government that lasts into the new year rather than stumbles from one day to the next”, says Grice. “She will have to take it.”