Priti Patel’s vacation to Israel certainly has the feeling of a busman’s holiday to it. The international development secretary is now admitting she met several Israel cabinet ministers, as well as the country’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, during the summer trip which she paid for herself. Patel’s big problem doesn’t only stem from these undeclared meetings, however, but her reaction to them, which has turned this story into something toxic which could cost Patel her job in the cabinet.
Last week, when it emerged she had held these meetings with Israeli politicians, Patel was adamant that Boris knew all about it. She told the Guardian:
‘Boris Johnson knew about the visit. The point is that the Foreign Office did know about this, Boris knew about (the visit). It is not on, it is not on at all’.
Now it turns out he didn’t – at least not in advance. Today, Patel ‘clarified’ her remarks to say that Boris was ‘aware of my visit while it was underway’. Patel went on to apologise but her actions certainly seem to amount to a breach of the ministerial code. Downing Street’s statement just now suggests as much:
‘Theresa May met the Secretary of State (Priti Patel) this morning to remind her of obligations which exist under the Ministerial Code’.
No.10’s understated reaction also suggests, however, that what could cost her her job probably won’t.
If she does survive, Patel can count herself lucky. One thing that is certain is that whether she stays or goes, this row will do little to dampen the rivalry between Patel and Johnson. In September, Boris called for DFID to be axed – remarks which brought a sharp rebuke from Patel. Both are in the running for the top job when Theresa May goes and it’s difficult not to see the early signs of the next Tory leadership contest playing out in this saga.