LONDON: A British cabinet member has thrown her political future into jeopardy after it emerged that she met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during what she had claimed was a family vacation in Israel this summer.
The story broke last week during Netanyahu’s visit to London to mark the centennial of the Balfour Declaration. The BBC revealed that International Development Secretary Priti Patel had held a number of meetings during the August trip, including with Netanyahu.
This week Patel released a statement clarifying her position and detailing the 12 meetings she had held, including Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
The Netanyahu meeting, according to the statement, included topics such as Patel’s experience growing up in an area of England with a large Jewish community, the Israeli domestic political scene and “prospects for closer collaboration between Israel and the U.K. on development and humanitarian issues.”
No U.K. officials were present and no minutes were kept. The Foreign Office was “aware of the visit while it was underway, but were not informed about it in advance,” her statement read.
Boris Johnson, Britain’s foreign secretary and a fellow Brexiteer, backed his colleague, tweeting that she was “a good friend & we work closely together for GLOBAL BRITAIN. Quite right that she meets w/ people & organisations overseas.”
Patel was accompanied by Lord Polak, the honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel, who told the BBC that the meetings were informal and “all very innocent.”
However, both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have seized on the affair and demanded an inquiry, warning that Patel’s position would be untenable if she had broken the ministerial code of conduct. The code states that “ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests.”