Scottish Daily Mail
Tory MP’s aide quits over Israeli’s secret plot to oust minister
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.’