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UK minister resigns over secret meetings with Israeli officials

A UK government minister has resigned after it was revealed she held secret meetings with Israeli officials.

Priti Patel met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior figures while on a private holiday with her family in August.

She apologised on Monday, but was ordered to return from an official trip to Africa on Wednesday after further revelations came to light.

Ms Patel said her “actions fell below the high standards that are expected”.

Her resignation is the culmination of an unusual chain of events that may seem complicated. So let’s take a step back.

Priti Patel, 45, is a politician with the ruling Conservative Party, who has long been viewed as a rising star of the party.

She has had numerous roles in government, and in June 2016 was appointed Secretary of State for International Development. This means Ms Patel is responsible for overseas development and the UK’s programme of assistance to developing countries.

It is fair to say Ms Patel is positioned on the right of the Conservative party. She is a longstanding critic of the European Union, has voted against gay marriage, campaigned against the smoking ban, and is a long-standing supporter of Israel.

Last week, the BBC revealed that Ms Patel held a number of undisclosed meetings with business and political figures during a family holiday to Israel in August.

She met the leader of one of Israel’s main political parties and made visits to several organisations where official government business was reportedly discussed.

This is unusual, because ministers are supposed to tell the government when they are conducting official business overseas.

After the visit, Ms Patel suggested some of Britain’s aid budget go to the Israeli army. She also asked her officials to see if Britain could support humanitarian operations conducted by the Israeli army in the occupied Golan Heights area.

That request was labelled as “inappropriate” by government officials. The UK, like other members of the international community, has never recognised Israeli control of the Golan Heights, an area seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Prior to resigning, Ms Patel apologised for not informing the Foreign Office of the meetings and for suggesting Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, knew about her plans in advance of the visit.

“In hindsight, I can see…how meetings were set up and reported in a way which did not accord with the usual procedures. I am sorry for this and I apologise for it,” she said.

The government initially welcomed Ms Patel’s “clarification” and said Prime Minister Theresa May had “reminded her” of her obligations. One Foreign Office minister defended the meetings, and said government policy did not change as a result of the trip. (Courtesy BBC)

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