United Kingdom ministerial code tightened after Patel's Israel meetings

Priti Patel the International Development Secretary

Britain's commitment to Israel's security remained "unwavering", Ms Patel said, but added that there was "more than just a security challenge" in the Middle East, but also a development challenge, noting the volatile population shifts in the region and the vast numbers of refugees, the greatest such numbers since the end of the Second World War.

Britain's Minister for International Development, Bertie Patel, apologized on Monday for not disclosing meetings with senior Israeli officials during a private holiday.

Asked if Patel's secret meetings were in breach of the ministerial code, Duncan Smith then did his best to find an imaginative excuse for his colleague.

And he added: "The Secretary of State has been clear with Number 10 that on no other occasions while a minister has she organised meetings with foreign government ministers outside the normal channels while on holiday".

In a clarification, she said that "this was not the case" and that he "did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it".

Patel's apology statement included a list of people she met, along with a brief summary of the discussions.

Kate Osamor, the shadow worldwide development secretary, told the Commons on Tuesday that it was "hard to think of a more black and white case of breaking the ministerial code of conduct".

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Ms Patel is now facing calls to resign following the revelations, which also revealed that she was accompanied by Lord Polak, the honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobbying group, but no British officials were present at the sessions. The Foreign Office was aware of the visit while it was underway, but were not informed about it in advance.

"I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be mis-read, and how meetings were set up and reported", Patel said in a statement. "I am sorry for this and I apologize for it".

They also discussed the Israeli domestic political scene, India, Netanyahu's then-forthcoming visit to London to mark the centenary last week of the Balfour declaration, and "prospects for closer collaboration between Israel and the United Kingdom on development and humanitarian issues".

On Tuesday No.10 confirmed Patel had suggested the United Kingdom send aid money to the Israeli army in the Golan Heights.

Ms Patel has apologised after admitting she held talks with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, without alerting the Foreign Office.

"The prime minister met the secretary of state this morning to remind her of the obligations which exist under the ministerial code".

The PM's official spokesman said of Ms Patel: "Nobody is pretending she handled this situation well, least of all the Secretary of State".

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