When Zelo Street noted reports that international development secretary Priti Patel “held undisclosed meetings in Israel without telling the Foreign Office while accompanied by an influential pro-Israeli Conservative lobbyist” and that she “met the leader of one of Israel's main political parties and made visits to several organisations where official departmental business was reportedly discussed”, it looked bad. Very bad.
There was more: “British diplomats in Israel were not informed about Ms Patel's plans … Ministers are by convention supposed to tell the Foreign Office when they are conducting official business overseas … the meetings could have broken the ministerial code of conduct”. The word “could” was superfluous: Ms Patel’s meetings were not only more extensive than feared, she did break that code of conduct. Seriously.
Now has come a “clarification” from Ms Patel, from which we can see that she was blatantly and shamelessly conducting her own off-the-cuff foreign policy, not telling the Foreign Office, or even her boss, London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who has his own problems right now.
As the BBC’s Nick Robinson put it, “That’s some clarification from Priti Patel. When said Boris knew about freelance trip to meet Israeli PM she meant Boris did not know”. In other words, she has taken on board Bozza’s signature response to problematic questions, otherwise known as lying. And it gets worse. A lot worse.
Even the Beeb’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg called Ms Patel’s press release “clarifying” what she had been up to in Israel last August a “classic”. And I suspect this was not meant as some kind of praise. Ian Birrell added the ominous “It gets worse: Priti Patel suggested British aid should be given to the Israeli army in the Occupied Territories”. And what will Theresa May do about this latest horrendous lapse from her ministers?
As if you need to ask. “Theresa May wants the ministerial code of conduct to be tightened - after it was revealed Priti Patel held secret meetings with Israeli officials … She was ‘reminded of her obligations’ as a cabinet minister, Mrs May said”. Yeah, right. Two things here: one, the code of conduct does not need “tightening”, just applying properly. And two, it’s clear Ms Patel got away with not even a slap on the wrist. That’s not good enough.
After all, “The international development secretary apologised for holding 12 meetings, including one with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, while on a private holiday … No diplomats were present at the meetings, at which the minister was accompanied by an influential pro-Israeli Conservative peer and lobbyist, Lord Polak”.
Even the most diplomatic comments showed Ms Patel got it badly wrong: “Lord Ricketts, former head of the Diplomatic Service, said her actions were unprecedented”. And the idea she had a holiday in Israel in August, when the temperature climbs into the 40s, is not merely eyebrow-raising - it’s well on implausible.
Yet Priti Patel is still in post. And no-one is surprised. What a total and absolute shower.