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Witham MP Priti Patel resigns as International Development Secretary over secret Israel meetings

PUBLISHED: 19:19 08 November 2017 | UPDATED: 19:56 08 November 2017

Priti Patel and Prime Minister Theresa May

Priti Patel and Prime Minister Theresa May

PA Wire/PA Images

Essex MP Priti Patel has tonight quit her Cabinet role and acknowledged that her “actions fell below the standards of transparency and openness” she had advocated.

Her decision to resign as International Development Secretary came after being summoned back from an official visit to Africa for a showdown with Theresa May in Downing Street.

Ms Patel had been intending to spend three days in Kenya and Uganda, but was forced to cut short her trip and return home from Nairobi to explain the disclosure of further unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Ms Patel said: “In recent days there have been a number of reports about my actions and I am sorry that these have served as a distraction from the work of the Department for International Development and of the Government as a whole.

“As you know from our discussions I accept that in meeting with organisations and politicians during a private holiday in Israel my actions 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.

“I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the Government for what has happened and offer my resignation.”

Ms Patel’s downfall came after she had already apologised to Mrs May on Monday after failing to disclose a series of 12 meetings. It has since emerged she then held two additional meetings, one in the UK and one in the US, following her return from Israel.

It has also been claimed that during her stay in the country she visited an Israeli military field hospital in the occupied Golan Heights. Britain, like other members of the international community, has never recognised Israeli control of the area, seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The meetings, without officials and in relation to one of the most sensitive areas of foreign policy, led to Ms Patel apologising and being given a dressing down by Mrs May on Monday.

But the disclosures since then added to pressure on Ms Patel, culminating in a flight back from her curtailed Africa trip and a meeting in Downing Street lasting around 30 minutes during which it was made clear her Cabinet career was over.

In her reply to Ms Patel, Mrs May said: “As you know, the UK and Israel are close allies, and it is right that we should work closely together.

“But that must be done formally, and through official channels.

“That is why, when we met on Monday, I was glad to accept your apology and welcomed your clarification about the trip to Israel over the summer.

“Now that further details have come to light, it is right that you have decided to resign and adhere to the high standards of transparency and openness that you have advocated.”

Earlier today, Braintree district councillor Phil Barlow, who stood for Labour against Ms Patel in June’s general election, said her position was a cabinet minister was left “untenable”.

“It seems to me to be a clear breach of the ministerial code,” he said. “Whether you consider her actions misleading or deception, there’s a question of trust. If that’s how she is prepared to deal with her ministerial colleagues then can people trust her at a local level.”

Mark Durham, Witham Conservative constituency association chairman, said he was “100% behind” Ms Patel.

“As the constituency chairman my only concern is what Priti Patel does as a constituency MP, and my view – and that of the whole association – is that she is an exemplary constituency MP,” he said, also speaking before tonight’s announcement.

“There are very few harder working constituency MPs, even given her role in cabinet.

“We met her on Saturday morning and all assured her we were 100% supportive. We know she places the importance of her constituency MP work higher than her ministerial role, and there’s not a lot that do that. Her record speaks for itself.”

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