Priti Patel met politicians and officials in Israel without telling the Foreign Office, it was claimed yesterday.
The International Development Secretary, who had travelled to Israel on holiday, met the leader of a political party and visited several organisations where official business was allegedly discussed.
She was accompanied by an influential pro-Israeli Conservative lobbyist, the BBC reported.
International Development secretary Priti Patel met Israeli officials during a ‘private’ holiday
No investigation is being carried out whether she ‘broke’ rules by meeting Israeli officials
It said she had broken convention by failing to inform Boris Johnson’s department, which is in charge of UK foreign policy.
Downing Street said Miss Patel was in Israel for a holiday she had paid for herself, and ‘no investigation’ was being carried out into whether she broke ministerial rules. She was also backed by Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson. However, one former minister said the allegations were ‘ten times worse’ than those that prompted the resignation of Liam Fox from the Cabinet in 2011.
The Liberal Democrats accused Miss Patel of making a ‘grave error of judgment’ and demanded to know whether she had broken the ministerial code.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘I think while she was there she took the opportunity to meet some people and organisations, but it was a private holiday and entirely paid for by the Secretary of State. I’ve not been made aware of any concerns. No investigation is taking place.’
Mr Johnson tweeted: ‘[Miss Patel] is a good friend and we work closely together for GLOBAL BRITAIN. Quite right that she meets with people and organisations overseas.’
Yair Lapid, of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party, had tweeted a picture of his meeting with Miss Patel, describing her as a ‘true friend of Israel’.
According to the BBC, Miss Patel was accompanied by Tory peer Lord Polak, who is honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel lobbying group. The pair were also said to have visited Beit Issie Shapiro, an Israeli disability charity and campaign group. A former minister compared the row to Dr Fox’s 2011 resignation as defence secretary after it emerged that he held unauthorised meetings with his friend Adam Werritty on a string of foreign trips.
Mr Werritty’s travel was reportedly funded by firms that stood to benefit from government decisions.
‘This is ten times worse than what Liam Fox had to resign for,’ they said. ‘She was with a donor/lobbyist meeting officials of a foreign government – that is not acceptable.
‘She can’t for a second claim this was just a social event when the meetings she had are having a direct influence on government policy.’
Lib Dem international development spokesman Baroness Sheehan said: ‘Priti Patel has made a grave error of judgment… it is objectionable that [she] chooses to use her position of influence to inappropriately foster her own political ambition, disregarding both common courtesy due to the Foreign Secretary and Government procedures.
‘[Miss Patel] now must answer questions over whether she has broken the ministerial code of conduct. If she has, her position as Secretary of State is untenable.’
A Department for International Development spokesman said: ‘This was a private holiday paid for by the Secretary of State herself. This was not a secret visit and while there she took the opportunity to meet some people and organisations.’