Patel has gone, but No 10 still has serious questions to answer
PRITI PATEL has been a longstanding friend of Israel, and a very good Secretary of State for International Development.
One of her early moves was to freeze part of the DfID’s aid contribution to the Palestinian Authority over concerns that it was being used to fund salaries for convicted Palestinian terrorists. In that context, her departure from the Cabinet is undoubtedly a blow.
But it is a self-inflicted blow. No one forced her to hold unauthorised meetings in Israel; no one forced her to ignore the ministerial code.
That said, the longer-term implications of this affair do not concern Ms Patel. They concern its wider impact on Jewish communal relations with government and the (entirely spurious) credibility the circumstances of her departure give to conspiracy theories surrounding “nefarious” Israeli and Jewish influence.
But there is also the matter of Number 10. On Tuesday night, I wrote on the JC’s website that something did not add up about Downing Street’s claim that it had no idea about Priti Patel’s meetings with senior Israelis.
As I put it: “Well before last week’s James Landale scoop about Ms Patel’s meetings with Israeli politicians, I was told very matter of factly that there would soon be an announcement of cooperation between the UK and Israel over aid in Africa — that we would divert some of our aid money to the Israelis to fund some of their aid work there. I was told that it had been signed off between DfID and Number 10, but that the FCO had kicked off because it felt its toes were being trodden on.”
After the story was published I was contacted by a reliable source who I have known for many years, whose sober judgment I have often relied on and who has always been entirely accurate in his information. He told me that although Ms Patel had clearly messed up and had to go, the real story was about Number 10.
In its statements, Number 10 insists that the first Mrs May knew of Ms Patel’s meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu was last Friday. But my source — subsequently confirmed by a second, unconnected source — told me that Mrs May knew in full about Ms Patel’s meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister.
The two women had met in September, prior to the UN General Assembly, and at that meeting the Prime Minister was enthusiastic about Ms Patel’s plan for UK aid to be spent with Israel — a plan that had emerged following her meeting with Mr Netanyahu.
On Monday, Ms Patel issued a statement outlining 12 unauthorised meetings in Israel. What finally tipped her over the edge was her apparent failure to report a 13th meeting, with Israeli Foreign Office official Yuval Rotem in New York. But my sources — subsequently confirmed by a third source on Wednesday — told me that Number 10 had indeed been told by Ms Patel about that meeting, and had specifically asked her not to include it in her statement.
I do not speculate about the reasons behind any of this. Frankly, I find it difficult to fathom what has been going on. But it is a truism with most scandals that the real fall-out comes from the cover-up.
At the very least, there are serious questions for Number 10 to answer about who knew what, and when — including the PM.
My source said Mrs May knew in full about the meeting with Mr Netanyahu’