Priti Patel: Good Thing She’s Gone

Priti Patel: Good Thing She’s Gone

I am sure that Theresa May could not wait for last Friday to arrive, after losing two cabinet members, marking a catastrophic week for her Conservative government. Damian Green, the First Secretary of State, was suspended after allegations of sexual harassment and then Priti Patel, the now ex-International Development Secretary, decided to ‘resign’ (which translates as an ultimatum from May) after her secret meetings in Israel were revealed.

In August, whilst supposedly on holiday in Israel, Patel enacted her own freelance foreign policy by holding twelve separate meetings with Israeli leaders and officials, and visiting the illegally occupied Golan Heights, not recognised by the UK government. These meetings took place without a civil servant being present, an essential requirement for a legitimate political meeting, and Patel failed to inform Theresa May, the Foreign Office or any other cabinet members.

The meetings with people such as the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians, were carried out as personal discussions with Patel representing her own interests and not those of the government. However, how she failed to understand that part in parcel of her role as cabinet member is an obligation to act on behalf of the government, and in turn the British public, in all engagements and decision she makes, is boggling. This time, it must have slipped Patel’s mind, and consequently lost her her job.

But what is most troubling about Patel is not to do with her pro Israel stance per se, but instead the increasing bias of the Department for International Development (DFID) towards support of Israel under Patel’s leadership and the impact this had on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

DFID has a long history of providing humanitarian and development funding to Palestinians, most often through Palestinian NGOs. Yet, under Patel’s influence, the department made the decision to cut £17 million to funding to Gaza, where economic conditions are considered to be dire. Even Israel’s military general in charge of civil affairs in the occupied territories, Yoav Mordechai, called for a new “Marshall Plan” in aid for Gaza, without which he suggested another war could well ensue.

It is clear that many issues are at play here. Firstly, Patel’s serious error in firstly conducting these meetings and then failing to inform the PM. Secondly, the impact of Patel’s leadership over DFID’s decision to remove funding for Palestinian NGOs and undermine Britain’s position in trying to support an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Finally, the exposure of May’s weak government as during Patel’s secret meetings she offered British aid money to an Israeli army currently enforcing occupation of Palestinians, a decision that I am sure made Theresa May whince. It is highly likely that Patel did this because May’s career is a festering carcass, and she is among the many circling vultures.

If Britain is to help ease the conflict in Israel, then the role of DFID is vital and the loss of Patel is a positive move. Yet the question still remains as to how Patel’ successor, Penny Mordaunt, will distribute funding towards Palestinian NGOs, and whether her own personal beliefs become a dominant factor and threat to Britain’s position in the region.

Martha Scott-Cracknell

(Image courtesy of the Independent)