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UK Minister Priti Patel resigns

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 09, 2018

File photo of UK Minister Priti Patel   -  Reuters

Resignation comes amid further revelations about Patel’s dealings with senior Israeli politicians and a visit to Israel during a “family holiday”

Priti Patel, Britain’s first Indian-origin cabinet minister resigned as International Development Secretary on Wednesday evening, as the political crisis engulfing the British government intensified. Hers was the second cabinet resignation within the period of a week, after Defence Secretary Michael Fallon resigned over sexual harassment allegations last Wednesday. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is also facing calls for his resignation over incorrect comments made to a parliamentary select committee over a British-Iranian citizen imprisoned in Iran.

Patel’s resignation came following an intense day at Westminster amid further revelations about Patel’s dealings with senior Israeli politicians and a visit to Israel during a “family holiday” over the summer. Accusations and counter accusations about the extent to which Downing Street knew of her visit and subsequent policy proposals also ensued. Patel, who had been on an official trip to Africa, cut short her visit to return to meet the Prime Minister on Wednesday evening, with her resignation announced shortly after a brief meeting in Downing Street. In her resignation to the Prime Minister, Patel apologised for the “distraction” the reports on her activities had created from the governments operation. “While my actions were meant with the best of intentions, my actions also fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advanced,” she wrote. Writing in response, Prime Minister Theresa May said it was “right” that she had decided to resign and “adhere to the high standards of transparency and openness that you have advocated.”

On Monday, Patel had publicly apologised for failing to disclose 12 meetings with senior Israeli politicians including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a “family holiday” to Israel in August. After initially suggesting the FCO and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had been in the loop since the outset, she admitted they had been made aware of the meetings while the trip was underway. While Downing Street initially stood by her, subsequent revelations have made her position increasingly tenuous.

On Wednesday, the Guardian reported that sources within her Department confirmed further meetings with Israeli officials in September that were also not carried out according to ministerial procedures including a meeting with Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister for public security on the House of Commons terrace in early September. She also met a foreign ministry official in New York later that month. Reports in the Jewish Chronicle, however, suggested that Ms Patel had disclosed these to Downing Street but was advised not to reveal details of them as they could embarrass the British Foreign Office: something Downing Street has strenuously denied.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz also reported on Wednesday that Patel had visited the Golan Heights during her visit. This would go against long standing British foreign policy that has treated the region as illegally occupied Syrian land, and not Israeli. territory

It also emerged that Patel had since commenced discussions within her department over sending aid money to the Israeli army for work in the Golan Heights. While Downing Street insisted on Tuesday that it was not aware of the plans until the media reports, the Jewish Chronicle story on Wednesday suggested they had been looped in.

The decision to allow Patel to stay after the initial details of the undisclosed meetings emerged faced widespread criticism both from within the Conservative Party and from opposition parties, including Labour, which called for her resignation or an investigation into whether the ministerial code had been breached.

Her resignation is, however, unlikely to end the story: Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson wrote to the Prime Minister on Wednesday evening, regarding claims that Patel had met with officials from the British Foreign Office. “The existence of such a meeting would call into question the official account of Patel’s behaviour and the purpose of the visit.”

Patel, the MP for the Essex constituency of Witham entered Parliament in 2010. Born in London, Patel was appointed diaspora champion for the British Indian community by former Prime Minister David Cameron as part of its effort to strengthen ties between the two countries, and to win over more of the British Gujarati and wider Indian community, which has traditionally voted Labour, to the Conservative Party. She has been a strong cheerleader of the Modi government, publicly praising a number of its policies including demonetisation.

She has continued to play a prominent role in the bilateral relationship, last year the British government described her as their “first foot” to India as she toured Ahmedabad, Kolkata and New Delhi.

Last year, Patel courted controversy as a vocal Leave campaigner, telling sections of the Indian community that leaving the European Union presented an opportunity for Britain to ease immigration rules for non-EU citizens. “By voting to leave we can take back control of our immigration policies, save our curry houses and join the rest of the world,’ she told the Evening Standard newspaper in May 2016.

Last August she told The Hindu that the UK-India bilateral relationship would benefit from Brexit, and that the EU had “held back” the economic development of India as they would not do a trade deal.

Published on November 09, 2017

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