Theresa May invited trouble by putting Priti Patel in her cabinet

The International Development Secretary was promoted far beyond her means as a sop to Conservative Brexiteers. 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

The remarkable claim that Theresa May knew about Priti Patel's undisclosed meetings with Israeli politicians has potentially implicated the Prime Minister in the scandal (No10 has unambiguously denied the Jewish Chronicle's story).

But Downing Street is culpable in a more obvious way: it was May who appointed Patel to the cabinet. When the Conservative MP was named International Development Secretary in June 2016, there was incredulity in Westminster. As recently as 2013, Patel (who is mid-air and pre-sacking) called for her new department to be abolished and replaced with a Department for International Trade and Development (a view she conveniently retracted after her promotion).

The new cabinet minister also supported the restoration of capital punishment, called for "the burden" of EU social and employment legislation to be halved, and in 2012 declared of UK employees: "Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world."

In short, this was not the judgement one might hope a secretary of state would possess. Like several of her cabinet colleagues, the over-promoted Patel owed her position to one thing: Brexit. In a de facto positive discrimination scheme, Leave supporters such as Andrea Leadsom (House of Commons leader), Liam Fox (International Trade Secretary) and Boris Johnson (Foreign Secretary) have been elevated far beyond their means. 

In promoting such individuals to the cabinet, Theresa May was inviting trouble. Undeclared meetings with Israeli cabinet members, and a freelance scheme to transfer aid money to the Israeli Defence Force, is the kind of reckless behaviour one expects from an ideologue such as Patel. Whether or not No10 knew about the meetings is, in a sense, irrelevant. They knew enough to know this would not end well. 

George Eaton is senior online editor of the New Statesman.

Free trial CSS