UK minister Priti Patel resigns: Conservatives' first woman MP is a Eurosceptic, supports death penalty

Troubles for the Theresa May government in the United Kingdom escalated on Thursday as UK international development secretary Priti Patel resigned over unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Patel resigned after being ordered back from a trip to East Africa and summoned to 10 Downing Street by Prime Minister Theresa May. If she had not quit, she would almost certainly have been fired, reported AP. Patel has been under pressure since it was revealed last week that she held 12 meetings with Israeli groups and officials, including Netanyahu, during a vacation in Israel in August — and that she hadn't told May or colleagues about it.

She apologised, but when details of two further meetings emerged, May acted.

File image of Priti Patel. AP

File image of former UK international development secretary Priti Patel. AP

Patel, 45, has been a Conservative MP for the Witham constituency in Essex since 2010, reported The Sun. She was the Conservatives' first female Asian MP.

Born in London to a Ugandan Indian family, Patel completed her post-graduate studies at the University of Essex.

She was appointed as the exchequer secretary to the treasury in 2014. After the 2015 general election, Patel was appointed as the minister for employment at the department for work and pensions.

After David Cameron's resignation, Patel backed Theresa May and was eventually appointed by her as international development secretary.

Patel has expressed her support for the death penalty in the past. "Murderers and rapists and people who have committed the most abhorrent crimes go into prison but then are released back into the community to do those crimes again and again," a 2014 article in The Independent had quoted her as saying.

Before entering politics, she was also linked with big tobacco business. She had earlier worked in PR with consultancy firm Weber Shandwick, where one of her clients was British American Tobacco (BAT), a multi-national London-based tobacco firm.

The Sun article also said that Patel is a long-standing supporter of Israel and a Eurosceptic. She was an important figure in the 'Vote Leave' campaign during the 2016 referendum.

In her resignation letter, Patel said her conduct "fell below the high standards that are expected of a secretary of state". May replied that it was right Patel had decided to quit "and adhere to the high standards of transparency and openness that you have advocated".

Patel said earlier that her meetings in Israel — arranged by Stuart Polak, honorary president of the group Conservative Friends of Israel — stemmed from her "enthusiasm to engage". But critics accused her of breaching ministers' code of conduct and making a major diplomatic gaffe in a region of high political sensitivity.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported Wednesday that Patel visited an Israeli military field hospital in the Golan Heights during her August trip. Britain regards Israel as illegally occupying the territory, which it captured from Syria in 1967.

After the visit, Patel discussed with her department the possibility of British aid being given to the Israeli army to support medical assistance for refugees from the Syrian civil war arriving in the Golan Heights. A fellow minister has said the idea was rejected.

Patel's situation had been made worse by her contradictory statements about the meetings.

When news broke about the August trip, Patel insisted that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson "knew about the visit." Her department was later forced to clarify the statement, saying "the foreign secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it".

Patel apologised, saying the meetings "did not accord with the usual procedures".

May summoned Patel to Downing Street after details of two more meetings emerged. She also met Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in London on 7 September and foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York on 18 September — in both cases without any other British officials present.

With inputs from AP

Updated Date: Nov 09, 2017 17:37 PM

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