Priti Patel gains – and loses – security minister role while Johnson dithers

UK aid: Priti Patel’s previous attempt to get the UK to provide aid to Israel, to help that country’s soldiers occupy part of Syria, is not what that stands for. But did Boris Johnson even consider that when going back on his decision to give her the duties of the former Security Minister?

There’s a little debate about what exactly happened here.

The role of security minister was handed to Home Secretary Priti Patel around a month ago, after then-incumbent James Brokenshire announced that he had to give it up to fight cancer. He had had the disease before but it had returned.

This should have been on a strictly temporary – emergency – basis while Johnson found a replacement.

But Johnson dithered.

He left Patel in charge of the brief for more than a month and then – yesterday, the day after a gunman shot five people in Plymouth in the worst shooting incident on UK soil since 2010 – it was reported that Patel was taking over the role on a permanent basis.

If that decision actually came from Johnson, it didn’t last.

It was announced that Damian Hinds would take on the brief, last than a day after we were told Patel would keep it.

How messy.

One is encouraged to speculate on the reason for the apparent confusion – and one logical answer presents itself immediately.

The ‘Security’ brief includes counter-terrorism, serious and organised crime, cybercrime, economic crime, hostile state activity, extradition, and royal and VIP protection.

It also covers online harms; the common travel area between the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands; aviation and maritime security; Grenfell; and flooding, hurricane, and natural disaster relief.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the minister also oversaw the functioning of the domestic national security system, including MI5 and counter-terrorism policing, as well as the functioning of the serious and organised crime system, including the National Crime Agency, and cybersecurity.

Backtract a little…

“Hostile state activity”?

Didn’t Priti Patel go on a junket to Israel while pretending to be on holiday, hold meetings with a series of heavyweight Israeli politicians including then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and then try to use her influence as (then-) International Development Secretary to divert some of that department’s budget to fund the Israel Defence Force occupying the Golan Heights in Syria?

And didn’t this happen only a few months after an Israeli Embassy employee conspired with at least one Conservative to have Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan removed from his position because he was perceived to be hostile to that country?

Both those actions could be deemed to be activity by a hostile state.

And one of them involved Patel herself. Clearly she is unfit to be trusted with such a sensitive government brief.

So I wonder whether Johnson was reminded of this, and changed his mind.

That would at least suggest that he has some sense of judgement.

The alternative – that he made his decision without even realising that his Home Secretary is herself a security risk – is horrifying indeed. Isn’t it?

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