U.K. Cabinet Minister Resigns Over Secret Israeli Meetings

By Bloomberg
Priti Patel Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

LONDON, UK - Priti Patel resigned as U.K. international development secretary over talks with the Israeli government behind Prime Minister Theresa May’s back after more revelations of undisclosed visits came to light.

Patel failed to tell either May or the U.K. Foreign Office that she would be having 12 meetings with officials including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a 13-day holiday in Israel in August.

On Tuesday, it emerged that she had suggested giving British aid money to an Israeli army project and that she had held further unauthorized meetings.

“I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the Government for what has happened and offer my resignation,” Patel said in a letter. May, in her response, said: "Now that further details have come to light, it is right that you have decided to resign and adhere to the high standards of transparency and openness that you have advocated."

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported Wednesday that Patel had also traveled to the Golan Heights in a breach of normal diplomatic protocol.

Those further revelations forced May to summon Patel back from a trip to Kenya within hours of her arrival. She then met the international development secretary on Wednesday evening for about half an hour, before her office made the resignation public.

‘Active’ Role

Patel’s departure piles pressure onto May, who initially tried to keep her in place while issuing a public rebuke over her lapse. Patel is the second cabinet minister to quit May’s government a week after Michael Fallon resigned as defense secretary over allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior.

May is struggling to maintain her grip on a government that’s been rocked by multiple crises since she lost personal authority as a result of her failure to retain her parliamentary majority in June’s national election.

Patel, one of the most prominent members of the campaign to leave the European Union, suggests in her letter that she is unlikely to let herself fade into obscurity now that she’s been relegated to the back benches.

She promises to “take an active role” representing local residents now she’s outside government and to “speak up for our country, our national interests and the great future that Britain has as a free, independent and sovereign nation.”

Patel, 45, first won a seat in Parliament in 2010 and became a junior Treasury minister four years later. She joined the cabinet as development secretary when May succeeded David Cameron in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.

The ministerial code that governs the behavior of members of the British government makes no specific mention of secret meetings with foreign heads of government, but it does urge ministers to take “special care” when talking about issues “which are the responsibility of other ministers.”

On Tuesday, May’s spokesman told reporters that on returning from her vacation, Patel had asked her officials whether British aid money could be given to support the Israeli army’s relief work in the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. The idea was rejected -- Britain doesn’t recognize Israel’s occupation of Golan.