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6 Nov, 2017 17:28

Tory minister ‘sorry’ for holding undisclosed meetings with Israeli govt while ‘on holiday’

Tory minister ‘sorry’ for holding undisclosed meetings with Israeli govt while ‘on holiday’

International Development Secretary Priti Patel has apologized for holding official meetings while on “holiday” in Israel, breaking ministerial rules. The UK minister admitted she met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without telling the Foreign Office.

She had 12 meetings during the 13-day trip in August, also meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister and the Public Security Minister. She admitted the Foreign Office was “not informed” of her trip, three days after claiming Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had known about it.

Ministers are supposed to tell the Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas, but British diplomats in Israel were not informed in advance. Opposition parties have already said she should resign if it is shown she breached the ministerial code of conduct.

Last Friday, Patel claimed Johnson knew about the trip. In a fresh statement on Monday, however, she acknowledged the Foreign Office was only “aware of my visit while it was under way.”

“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 apologize for it,” she said, adding: “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.”

Patel made visits to several organizations where official departmental business was reportedly discussed, according to the BBC. According to a source, at least one of the meetings was held at the suggestion of the Israeli ambassador to London.

No civil servants were present, but Patel was accompanied by Lord Polak, honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), an influential lobbying organization that has access to wealthy party donors. Patel is a former vice chair of CFI.

Patel met with Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party and a former finance minister in PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government. Lapid tweeted a picture of the meeting, saying it was “great to meet Priti Patel,” whom he described as a “true friend of Israel.”

She also met with Beit Issie Shapiro (BIS), a leading Israeli disability charity and campaign group, where she reportedly discussed the possibility of her department forming a long-term partnership with the organization. Jean Judes, executive director of BIS, published a picture on Facebook of Patel visiting her organization.

A Number 10 spokesperson said Prime Minister Theresa May “welcomes” Patel’s clarification about her trip to Israel and has “accepted her apology” for the 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,” the spokesperson said.