UK minister faces sacking calls over Israel meetings

(FILES) This file photo taken on September 12, 2017 shows Britain’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel arriving to attend the weekly meeting of the cabinet at Downing Street in central London. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS

British Prime Minister Theresa May summoned her aid minister back from a trip to Africa on Wednesday following a row over unauthorised meetings in Israel, prompting speculation she will be the second minister in a week to be sacked.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel left London on Tuesday on a trip to Uganda, but a government source told AFP she was returning to London Wednesday at May’s request.

Patel was forced to apologise on Monday for taking time out of a family holiday to Israel in August to hold 12 separate meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other politicians without May’s knowledge.

Patel was accompanied on all the meetings in Israel except one by Lord Stuart Polak, the honorary president of lobbying group Conservative Friends of Israel.

She was publicly reprimanded by the prime minister but appeared to keep her job.

However, it emerged late Tuesday there had been another two unauthorised meetings in September, one with Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

“I don’t understand what more she needs to do to be sacked,” one unnamed minister told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

If sacked, Patel would become the second minister to leave May’s government in a week, after Michael Fallon quit on November 1 in a scandal over sexual harassment and sleaze that has rocked parliament.

A third cabinet minister, May’s de facto deputy Damian Green, is under investigation for allegedly touching a journalist’s knee in 2014 and for having “extreme pornography” on his parliamentary computer a decade ago.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has also been heavily criticised for remarks which left him accused of jeopardising the case of a British-Iranian woman jailed in Tehran.

Serious breaches of ministerial code
The main opposition Labour party has demanded an investigation into whether Patel’s behaviour breached the ministerial code.

Shadow minister Jon Trickett said May “should act now to launch an investigation of these serious breaches of the ministerial code or explain why even given this she believes that Priti Patel can stay in post”.

Patel told May that she discussed the possibility of British aid being used to support medical assistance for Syrian refugees arriving in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to Downing Street.

Reports suggest however that she did not explain that this involved supplying funding to the Israeli army, which has facilitated the treatment of more than 3,100 wounded refugees in Israeli hospitals since 2013.

Britain’s official position is that funding the Israeli Defence Forces in Golan Heights is “not appropriate”, because it views the Golan Heights as occupied territory, a minister confirmed in parliament on Tuesday.

When she apologised on Monday, Patel said: “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.”

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Priti PatelTheresa May


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