As This Writer types, MPs are debating her “holiday” in Israel during August, in which she held meetings with politicians and organisations from that country including the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ms Patel is not present – she is on a plane to Africa, on what DfID minister Alistair Burt is describing as official business. That must be a pleasant change of pace for her!
Mr Burt has admitted that Ms Patel did not inform anybody in the government about the nature of her visit and the meetings that were planned – the Foreign Office found out on August 24, several days after she had travelled there.
We know that she lied about this to The Guardian on her return, and released a statement yesterday that, basically, tied herself in knots.
And she came back seeking aid money for the Israeli army. The claim was that it would be used to look after Syrian refugees but, nevertheless, that does not seem in line with the intentions informing her department’s work.
No fewer than four Conservative MPs have criticised Ms Patel’s conduct in this matter. The Guardian reports:
Crispin Blunt, a former chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said it was important for cabinet ministers to understand all both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Implying that Patel did not fully understand the Palestinian perspective, he told Burt, an experienced minister for the Middle East:
He is probably the most equipped of her ministers to take her very gently in hand, and I hope he does.
Sir Hugo Swire said the public wanted “transparency and accountability”. He also said that organisations that lobby ministers should open their books.
Bob Blackman said that there was a problem having two departments dealing with foreign affairs, the Foreign Office and the department for international development. He said it was important to clarify the responsibility of ministers when they went abroad.
Sir Desmond Swayne said that when he met the deputy Israeli prime minister, the deputy PM stormed out. Swayne made a joke about it, but he implied that he might have been rather more robust with the Israelis than Patel.
This Writer found Sir Desmond’s comment in particularly bad taste. He suggested that Ms Patel received a better reception because she is a woman – which should have nothing to do with this debate at all. But I would suggest this is merely another demonstration of the Tory lack of consideration about their words that characterises, among other things, the career of Boris Johnson.
And let’s not forget that this is not the first time Ms Patel has fallen foul of the Ministerial Code. During the EU referendum campaign she made “misleading and inaccurate” claims about Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. It seems she said Turkish membership of the EU was being “accelerated with David Cameron’s support”, at a time when Mr Cameron was the prime minister.
Despite these breaches of the Code, Ms Patel has (so far) got away with a mere verbal reprimand from Theresa May.
The Prime Minister, it seems, is too weak to take the only logical step – sacking Ms Patel – and has chosen instead to blame the Ministerial Code.
She says this will tighten up its rules, but I think we can all tell that Mrs May – as corrupt as they come – will instead take the opportunity to do the exact opposite, writing in escape clauses so her ministers can continue to do whatever they like without fear of reprisals.
Theresa May really is that weak.
And that is why it is up to her MPs to do the right thing. Several of them have done so already. Let us hope they, and others, will pile on the pressure to remove Ms Patel from the government before her incessant pursuit of her own agenda causes worse problems.
ADDITIONAL: In the debate, Mr Burt said Theresa May considers the matter to be closed. It seems members of the public disagree:
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