UK minister quits over secret Israel dealings

During Ms Priti Patel's meetings, she discussed the possibility of British aid being used to support medical assistance for Syrian refugees in Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But reports suggest that she did not explain to Prime Minister Theresa May
During Ms Priti Patel's meetings, she discussed the possibility of British aid being used to support medical assistance for Syrian refugees in Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But reports suggest that she did not explain to Prime Minister Theresa May that this involved supplying funding to the Israeli army.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Her exit follows revelations of more unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials

LONDON • Britain's overseas aid minister Priti Patel has resigned over talks with the Israeli government behind Prime Minister Theresa May's back, after more revelations of undisclosed visits came to light.

Ms Patel had met Mrs May on Monday and apologised for the unauthorised talks during a family vacation in August, when she held meetings with a dozen Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without notifying the British embassy in Tel Aviv or the Foreign Office in advance.

But it emerged late on Tuesday that there had been another two unauthorised meetings in September, with Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in London and senior Foreign Ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York.

Ms Patel, a Brexit campaigner who is popular in the ruling Conservative Party, had to abandon a trip to Africa earlier on Wednesday after being summoned by Mrs May following the new revelations.

After a hastily arranged meeting not long after Ms Patel landed in London, Mrs May's office released her minister's letter of resignation, in which Ms Patel said her conduct in Israel had fallen "below the high standards" required of her post.

"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 advocated," she wrote.

In reply, Mrs May said in a letter to her: "Now that further details have come to light, it is right that you have decided to resign." She appointed Brexit-supporting lawmaker Penny Mordaunt as the new aid minister yesterday.

CONDUCT UNBECOMING

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 advocated.

FORMER INTERNATIONAL AID MINISTER PRITI PATEL, in her resignation letter.

RESIGNATION ACCEPTED

Now that further details have come to light, it is right that you have decided to resign.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY, in response to Ms Patel's letter.

On Monday, Ms Patel revealed details of her meetings, which included discussions with non-governmental organisations and businesses. She said they were arranged by Lord Stuart Polak, honorary president of the lobbying group Conservative Friends of Israel. News reports say Lord Polak sat in on 11 of the 12 meetings, including the one with Mr Netanyahu.

During her meetings, Ms Patel discussed the possibility of British aid being used to support medical assistance for Syrian refugees arriving in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Downing Street said.

However, reports suggest that she did not explain to Mrs May that this involved supplying funding to the Israeli army, which has helped treat more than 3,100 wounded refugees in Israeli hospitals since 2013.

Britain views the Golan Heights as occupied territory and a minister told MPs on Tuesday funding the Israeli Defence Forces there was "not appropriate". A senior Palestinian official on Wednesday condemned the meetings as "scandalous", urging Mrs May to take action.

In a further development on Wednesday, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that Ms Patel visited a military field hospital in the Golan Heights as a guest of the government. The daughter of Ugandan Indians, the 45-year-old Ms Patel has been an MP since 2010.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2017, with the headline 'UK minister quits over secret Israel dealings'. Print Edition | Subscribe