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Patel’s offences cannot be brushed under the carpet

24th Nov 2017
Patel’s offences cannot be brushed under the carpet

UK Department for International Development, Priti Patel (Picture: MOD)

Standards of conduct expected of members of the British Government and how they discharge their duties are set out in The Ministerial Code. In a forward to the latest edition, Prime Minister, Theresa May, spelt out that “in abiding by it, we will show that Government can be a force for good and that people can trust us to get on with the job and deliver the change they need.” Essentially they were designed to respond to impressions about the lack of accountability of ministers not only to Parliament but also to the general public at large.

The code includes what it describes as the ‘Seven Principles of Public Life’: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty, and Leadership. Many, if not all, appear to have been breached by Priti Patel in her position as Secretary of State for International Development before she was forced to resign. Despite being given a second chance, her lack of honesty and transparency as to the extent of her egregious misdemeanours proved to be her downfall.

Patel had been brought into the cabinet after May became Prime Minister and when the Brexiteer-Remainer balance in the Cabinet was of vital importance. As a former member of the Referendum Party, the right-wing MP had campaigned ferociously to leave the European Union. Her rise to become the first Indian Cabinet Minister was accelerated due to her Brexit positioning but the honour of her role appears to have been left aside as she instead ignored the heavy responsibility of her position in more ways than one.

With the astounding lack of transparency, it is still not known whether Patel even informed her own private office let alone her department of any of her extraordinary series of meetings with Israeli officials. It also remains unclear what if anything the Foreign Office or Downing Street was aware of, given the series of conflicting claims. Without a doubt, there appears to be little – if any – collective responsibility. Dishonesty alone is hardly an attribute fitting for a member of government though it seems more common than anyone would like.

One of her gravest offences, perhaps even akin to treason, was a secret meeting with officials of a foreign government, including Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu, without any civil servants to take notes and offer advice. Instead, she was said to have been accompanied by the Vice-President of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobby group. Not only were the meetings kept secret but Patel also breached the diplomatic protocol that British ministers do not travel to territories illegally annexed by Israel as she was reported to have visited the occupied Golan Heights during her “family holiday” in August.

Even worse, she called for the DFID aid money to be spent on the Israeli army!

A reminder: DFID is responsible for administering overseas aid “to promote sustainable development and eliminate world poverty”. It works to support the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals, none of which are even remotely linked to offering aid to any army, especially those illegally occupying Palestinian as well as Syrian territories. Her motives appear highly suspicious and require detailed questioning even after her forced resignation.

Was the former Secretary of State acting abusing her position and acting purely out of self-interest? She used to be a lobbyist herself. It has been suggested that she may have been seeking support from the influential Israeli lobby if she had her own leadership aims. There is mounting suspicion that she may have been serving the interests of a foreign government rather than those of this country. Some of her links with Israel are documented.

It was only three years ago that the extreme right-wing ‘think tank’, the Henry Jackson Society, paid for Patel to attend a conference in Washington DC organised by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on security in the Middle East. According to the Adam Ramsay, the Co-Editor of OpenDemocracyUK, the Henry Jackson Society itself is so secretive about their funding that they pulled their support for two parliamentary groups rather than reveal where they get their cash from. Currently, it is being investigated by the Charity Commission. Some have suggested that the role of Polak, who has access to wealthy Conservative donors, some ministers and members of Parliament, should not be overlooked in arranging her secretive meetings.

There is no doubt that any examination of the scandal needs to consider what was the purpose in arranging these meetings for Israel, which for the second time in less than a year, has had its clandestine efforts to discreetly influence British policy disclosed.

In January, Israeli Embassy official Shai Masot was caught in an al-Jazeera sting attempting to “take down” politicians regarded as unfriendly to Israel. With Patel, the controversial country has also been reportedly successful in getting her to order of a review of British aid to the Palestinians shortly after she took up her cabinet post.

Israel has pressed DFID to cut aid to the Palestinians due to the payments given by the Palestinian Authority to the families of people assassinated, murdered or jailed for involvement in attacks on Israeli targets. More favourable public relations is always a major concern over Israel’s abysmal human rights record, including in territories illegally occupied for decades. Presenting the role of the Israeli army, IDF, in a different light in the Golan Heights could have been one of the many aims.

“Ministers of the Crown are expected to behave in a principle way that upholds the highest standards of propriety,” says the Ministerial Code. “Ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and agencies.”

Patel’s conduct needs to be properly addressed and not brushed under the carpet.

Priti Patel’s resignation fails to lift veil over secret Israeli meetings

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