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8 November 2017

Priti Patel forced to resign from International Development post over Israel trip

Patel was summoned back from a planned trip to Uganda. 

By Julia Rampen

Priti Patel has been forced to resign from her post as Secretary of State for International Development, after it emerged she held a series of unauthorised meetings in Israel. 

Although Patel apologised and resigned, her initial defensiveness and unexpected return meant she was expected to be sacked if she had not done so. 

In an exchange of letters, Patel offered a “fulsome apology” to the Prime Minister and the government for actions that “fell below the high standards that are expected of a Secretary of State”. 

“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.”

May’s letter said the UK and Israel were “close allies” but working together must happen “through official channels”. She added “it is right that you have decided to resign”.

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Patel’s departure comes after it emerged that she held at least 12 meetings during a family holiday without properly disclosing them at the time, including one with Benjamin Netanyahu. Patel’s attempt to portray the meetings as an oversight was undermined by the fact she followed them up by asking to send British air money to the Israeli army, for funding humanitarian projects in the disputed territory of Golan Heights. 

Patel was bound for Uganda on Wednesday, but had reportedly only reached Kenya when she was forced to fly back to the UK for a meeting with No 10. According to Flightradar24, more than 20,000 people started tracking her plane on the long flight home

Staff at the Department for International Development were told to expect a new boss, the Independent reported as she landed.

If the resignation seemed somewhat contrived, this impression was underlined by the fact that sharp-eyed observers noticed that Patel’s name was at the bottom of both letters. 

The appointment of Patel, seen until this week as a rising star within the Conservative party, to the international development brief in June 2016 attracted criticism at the time because of her opposition to the department’s existence as recently as 2013.

As George Eaton writes, her inclusion stemmed not from her experience, but from her support for Brexit – along with other Leavers like Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and Boris Johnson. The latter was also facing criticism at the start of the week for his incorrect reference to the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Although the consequences of Johnson’s mistake are arguably far graver – Zaghari-Ratcliffe is imprisoned in Iran – by Wednesday the furore over Patel had largely obscured his blunder from view. 

If her rise was fast, Patel’s downfall has been swift. As recently as October, she was considered a possible successor to Theresa May, should the Prime Minister be forced to stand down. Her hardline views on foreign aid and capital punishment earned her a glowing profile in the Daily Mail

Until this week, her reputation as a workaholic also played in her favour. In the same Mail interview, she revealed she never watched the TV and hadn’t had time to read a book for months. 

Patel’s departure is the second from the cabinet in exactly a week, with Michael Fallon resigning as Defence Secretary a week earlier, amid the storm of sexual harassment allegations at Westminster (Fallon said that many allegations about his conduct were “false”). He was replaced by Gavin Williamson, the former Chief Whip.

Before the resignations, May was already in a desperately weak position, having lost her parliamentary majority in the snap election she called and delivered an excruciating conference speech. As Jonn Elledge notes, her key ally Damian Green is also under investigation in what increasingly looks like a cabinet of chaos.