In what many are signalling will be the second cabinet resignation in less than a week, it looks like the International Development Secretary is going but not yet gone.
The Times‘s Sam Coates has the behind-the-scenes story of Theresa May’s dismay at the actions of her minister, who failed to disclose two further unauthorised meetings with senior Israeli figures after returning from her visit to the country.
This is on top of the fresh news that she discussed sending British aid money to the Israeli army, which she also did not disclose in her face-to-face apology to Theresa May on Monday.
Patel has already been formally reprimanded by No 10 for the dozen undisclosed meetings she had in the country while on “holiday”, which she eventually admitted to and apologised for after misleading comments in the Guardian.
The minister’s Israeli contacts were facilitated by the honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel, Tory peer and corporate lobbyist Stuart Polak.
Patel is currently in Uganda on an official visit, but she won’t be going ahead with her engagements and is flying straight back, according to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on the Radio 4 Today programme. She could even face a sacking mid-morning in her absence.
Withholding information even after apologising, misleading the press, holding secret meetings set up by a lobbyist in a foreign state, and contemplating spending public money without any official discussions is more than enough for Patel to go. The initial revelations and bungling her explanation and apology should have been enough in itself.
So why is she still in post?
May has just had to appoint a new Defence Secretary after Michael Fallon resigned last week. Her cabinet falling apart is not a good look for a Prime Minister weakened after losing the Tories their majority earlier this year.
But more importantly, since becoming PM May has been striving to maintain a delicate Leave/Remain balance in her cabinet in order to present a show of unity to her European counterparts – and to placate her backbenchers.
Patel is one of the most enthusiastic Brexiteers in the cabinet: a long-time Brexit purist (unlike Boris Johnson) who Tory Leavers appreciate being in a high-profile position. Sacking her would give May the double whammy of having another vocal Brexiteer on the backbenches – and the task of filling the Brexit-shaped vacuum in her cabinet.
This isn’t an easy task. As Helen and I discuss on this week’s podcast, there’s not a huge amount of talent or experience to draw from among the backbench Brexiteers.
While Patel’s approach to aid is controversial in the department, she had an interest in the sector having written about the policy area before – just like she had with Brexit – as one of the Britannia Unchained Tories advocating new ideas who arrived in 2010.
Replacing this like-for-like will be tough, which could mean a reshuffle. And judging by the bitterness ensuing Fallon’s replacement, this is the last thing May needs.