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Further Blow to Britain's Theresa May as Aid Minister Priti Patel's Future in Doubt

Asked whether Priti Patel should be dismissed, the new defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, told reporters in Brussels: "The prime minister makes her own decision on actually who is serving in her cabinet, and they're only the prime minister's decisions."

Reuters

Updated:November 8, 2017, 5:50 PM IST
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Further Blow to Britain's Theresa May as Aid Minister Priti Patel's Future in Doubt
Priti Patel, a Brexit campaigner who is popular in the governing Conservative Party, was heading back to London to respond to media reports that she failed to declare meetings with Israeli officials in a breach of diplomatic protocol. (File photo/Reuters)
London: British aid minister Priti Patel was forced to cut short a foreign trip on Wednesday to answer questions over undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials, posing a new test of Prime Minister Theresa May's authority as she negotiates Brexit.

Weakened by losing her party's majority in a June election, May faces another crisis after her defence minister resigned in a sexual harassment scandal, leaving the government with "the stench of death" to it, according to an opposition lawmaker.

Patel, a Brexit campaigner who is popular in the governing Conservative Party, was heading back to London after cancelling meetings on a planned trip to Africa to respond to media reports that she failed to declare meetings with Israeli officials in a breach of diplomatic protocol.

Asked whether Patel should be dismissed, the new defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, told reporters in Brussels: "The prime minister makes her own decision on actually who is serving in her cabinet, and they're only the prime minister's decisions."

Whether Patel goes or not, the scandal is the latest to rattle May, who is dependent on the support of a small Northern Irish party in parliament to make laws - increasingly important as Britain navigates its departure from the European Union.

She lost close ally Michael Fallon, her defence secretary, last week, and her deputy Damian Green and another minister are under investigation as part of the sexual harassment scandal in parliament.

On Tuesday, her foreign minister, Boris Johnson, was pressed to apologise over remarks he made about a jailed aid worker in Iran, which critics said could prompt the Islamic Republic to hand her a longer jail term.

Opposition lawmakers are openly questioning whether May has the strength to continue as prime minister.

"There are times when a government has the stench of death about it," Pat McFadden, a lawmaker from the main opposition Labour Party, told parliament on Tuesday.

Patel apologised to May on Monday for failing to report that she had met senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a holiday - breaking rules by straying into matters reserved for the foreign ministry.

On Wednesday, the Sun newspaper reported that she had also failed to disclose that she had met the director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, Yuval Rotem, in New York and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in London.

A government source confirmed those meetings took place.

The source said that no UK government officials were present for the discussions, and they were set up and reported in a way that did not accord with the usual procedures.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper also reported that Patel visited a field hospital of the Israeli Defence Forces in the Golan Heights, seized by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war.

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