Britain’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel “held undisclosed meetings in Israel without telling the Foreign Office while accompanied by a powerful pro-Israeli Conservative lobbyist”, according to a BBC report released today.
Patel met the leader of one of Israel’s main political parties, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, and “made visits to several organisations where official departmental business was reportedly discussed”.
The BBC cited a source that said “at least one of the meetings was held at the suggestion of the Israeli ambassador to London”.
Though ministers are supposed to tell the Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas, British diplomats in Israel, however, were not informed about the minister’s plans.
The meetings took place over two days in August while Patel was on holiday in Israel, and the minister was accompanied by Lord Polak, honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI).
The BBC reported that “some ministers and MPs accused Ms Patel of trying to win favour with wealthy pro-Israeli Conservative donors who could fund a potential future leadership campaign”.
Others accused her of conducting her own “freelance foreign policy” on Israel.
Ministers also said there was a potential risk that the meetings could have broken the ministerial code of conduct which states that “ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise”.
One former minister told the BBC: “What does it say to the rest of the Middle East if a senior Cabinet minister in charge of Britain’s huge aid budget disappears for 48 hours from a family holiday in Israel and is under the wing of a pro-Israeli lobbyist?”
“Foreign Office sources in London” and “diplomatic sources in the region” confirmed to the BBC that Patel had not given them any warning of her visit. “We didn’t know and would have expected to know, given the meetings she had,” said one Foreign Office source.
According to the BBC, some Tory MPs also fear that Patel “used the trip to discuss reducing her department’s support for Palestinian groups”.
A Foreign Office source said that Patel had recently presented “a paper to the prime minister and the foreign secretary for yet more restrictions on the funding” given by the British government to the Palestinian Authority.
“They were not particularly impressed by her arguments,” said one Foreign Office source. Another said: “She has been trying this for some time. She has been pushing to get her hands on the PA aid budget and we have been pushing back.”