Scottish Daily Mail

Tory MP’s aide quits over Is­raeli’s se­cret plot to oust min­is­ter

- By Larisa Brown and Neil Sears

A SE­NIOR civil ser­vant was forced to quit yes­ter­day over her role in a ‘sin­is­ter’ plot to ‘take down’ a For­eign Of­fice min­is­ter.

Maria Striz­zolo, an aide to ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Robert Hal­fon, re­signed af­ter be­ing filmed by an un­der­cover re­porter as she met with an Is­raeli of­fi­cial.

In the meet­ing, the 32-year-old – who is sup­posed to be po­lit­i­cally neu­tral – egged on the in­tel­li­gence ex­pert as he threat­ened to tar­get Sir Alan Dun­can.

Shai Ma­sot, a po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cer at the Is­raeli em­bassy in Lon­don, said Sir Alan was caus­ing ‘a lot of prob­lems’ and vowed to ‘take down’ the min­is­ter.

Last night there were calls for the Gov­ern­ment to start an in­quiry over the at­tempted in­ter­fer­ence.

The pair met at a restau­rant close to the Is­raeli em­bassy in Kens­ing­ton, West Lon­don, last Oc­to­ber, where they were caught on cam­era by an un­der­cover re­porter from Al Jazeera. Dur­ing the

‘Don’t tell any­one about this meet­ing’

lunch, Miss Striz­zolo boasted about her role in Mr Hal­fon’s suc­cess.

Mr Ma­sot asked her if she could do the ‘op­po­site stuff’, adding: ‘Can I give you some names of MPs that I would sug­gest you take down?’

She replied that all MPs ‘have some­thing they’re try­ing to hide’.

Mr Ma­sot re­sponded by say­ing ‘I have some MPs’, adding ‘she knows which MPs I want to take down’ be­fore spec­i­fy­ing ‘the deputy for­eign min­is­ter’.

He said Boris John­son’s sec­ond-in­com­mand Sir Alan – a vo­cal critic of Is­raeli West Bank set­tle­ments – was ‘do­ing a lot of prob­lems’.

He ap­peared to sug­gest Sir Alan was more pow­er­ful than his boss be­cause Mr John­son was ‘an id­iot’ with no re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. He added: ‘If some­thing real hap­pened… it will be Dun­can.’

Miss Striz­zolo said Sir Alan is ‘im­pos­si­ble to re­buff’ and has pow­er­ful friends, claim­ing he had clashed with her boss, Mr Hal­fon.

‘Rob told the Whips and they told [Hal­fon] to calm down,’ she said, be­fore adding: ‘A lit­tle scan­dal maybe? Don’t tell any­one about this meet­ing.’

In a dis­cus­sion about other ‘pro-Arab’ Tory MPs, Mr Ma­sot refers to Com­mons for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee chair­man Crispin Blunt who, like Sir Alan, has crit­i­cised Is­rael.

Miss Striz­zolo added: ‘On the hit list? Yeah!’

Yes­ter­day the Is­raeli Em­bassy said it ‘re­jects the re­marks con­cern­ing Min­is­ter Dun­can’ that were made by a ‘ju­nior em­bassy em­ployee’ who would be ‘end­ing his term of em­ploy­ment with the em­bassy shortly’.

The For­eign Of­fice said Is­rael’s am­bas­sador Mark Regev had apol­o­gised and it con­sid­ered the mat­ter closed. But Shadow For­eign Sec­re­tary Emily Thorn­berry said the ex­change was ‘ex­tremely dis­turb­ing’ and should be treated as a ‘na­tional se­cu­rity is­sue’.

She called for an in­quiry into ‘im­proper in­ter­fer­ence in our demo­cratic pol­i­tics’. In 2014, Sir Alan crit­i­cised the Is­raeli set­tle­ment con­struc­tion and com­pared the sit­u­a­tion in one West Bank city to ‘apartheid’.

Both Mr Hal­fon and Miss Striz­zolo are prom­i­nent sup­port­ers of Con­ser­va­tive Friends of Is­rael (CFI).

Shortly af­ter Mr Hal­fon was made an ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter last year, his ex-chief of staff Miss Striz­zolo be­came a civil ser­vant at the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment, while still work­ing part-time for him in the Com­mons.

Yes­ter­day a source said she had re­signed from her civil ser­vice role at the Skills and Fund­ing Agency. Mr Hal­fon’s of­fice did not say whether she had also re­signed as his aide. Miss Striz­zolo told The Mail on Sun­day her con­ver­sa­tion was ‘tongue-in-cheek and gos­sipy’ and the sug­ges­tion she could ex­ert that type of in­flu­ence was ‘ris­i­ble’.

For­mer Tory min­is­ter Sir Des­mond Swayne said: ‘To talk of “tak­ing down” a Bri­tish min­is­ter is very sin­is­ter. There is anger in the US at Rus­sia’s med­dling in its demo­cratic process and no such for­eign med­dling should be al­lowed in the UK.’

 ??  ?? Caught on cam­era: Shai Ma­sot, left, meet­ing with Miss Striz­zolo
Caught on cam­era: Shai Ma­sot, left, meet­ing with Miss Striz­zolo
 ??  ?? Tar­get: Tory MP Sir Alan Dun­can
Tar­get: Tory MP Sir Alan Dun­can
 ??  ?? Civil ser­vant: Maria Striz­zolo
Civil ser­vant: Maria Striz­zolo

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