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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

British minister apologises for failing to disclose meeting with Netanyahu

Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, met up with several senior Israeli politicians including the country’s prime minister

Priti Patel suggested that the UK should use the threat of potential economic chaos in Ireland as leverage. Bloomberg
Priti Patel suggested that the UK should use the threat of potential economic chaos in Ireland as leverage. Bloomberg

Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel admitted setting up meetings with Israeli leaders without notifying government officials on a trip billed as a family holiday.

Ms Patel, who assumed office in July 2016, admitted that her senior colleague Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, was not made aware of the trip until it was underway, a breach of government rules.

In a statement, the Secretary of State said she had held 12 meetings during the 13-day holiday with senior figures including the Israeli prime minister, security minister Gilad Erdan and foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem.

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“This summer I travelled to Israel, on a family holiday paid for myself,” a statement on Monday said.

“While away I had the opportunity to meet a number of people and organisations. I am publishing a list of who I met.‎ The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was aware of my visit while it was underway‎.

“In hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be mis-read, and how meetings were set up and reported in a way which did not accord with the usual procedures. I am sorry for this and I apologise for it.”

Ms Patel is a known supporter of Israel and was accompanied on the trip by Conservative peer and lobbyist Lord Polak, honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel.

British ministers are required to inform the Foreign Office in advance when they are conducting official business overseas.

Opposition party members are calling for Ms Patel to resign or face an investigation into whether she broke the ministerial code of conduct, after she appeared to contradict herself about whether the foreign secretary had known about the trip. She had publicly attacked Mr Johnson on Friday for querying her behaviour.

“Boris [Johnson] knew about the visit. The point is that the Foreign Office did know about this, Boris knew about [the trip]. It is not on, it is not on at all,” she told The Guardian on Friday.

“I went out there, I paid for it. And there is nothing else to this. It is quite extraordinary. It is for the Foreign Office to go away and explain themselves,” she added.

Ms Patel publicly released the list of everyone she had spoken to in Israel and for what purpose, saying that she regretted her “lack of precision” in her previous comments about the Foreign Office.

It was revealed she spoke with Mr Netanyahu about his forthcoming trip to the UK as well as “prospects for closer collaboration between Israel and the UK on development and humanitarian issues”.

The apology came a few hours after Ms Patel was ordered to go to Downing Street and meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May, who only found out about the meeting with Mr Netanyahu on Friday.

“The Prime Minister welcomes the Secretary of State's clarification about her trip to Israel and has accepted her apology for her handling of the matter,” a No 10 spokesman said.

“The Prime Minister met the Secretary of State this morning to remind her of the obligations which exist under the ministerial code.”

Ms Patel also met with Yair Lapid, leader of Israel’s Yesh Atid party, which was only revealed when he tweeted a picture of them together, calling the secretary of state a “true friend of Israel”.