This is a Premium feature
Priti Patel - what on earth is going on?(14 Posts)
Just that. A kind of slow motion real time sacking seems to be taking place, with briefings and counter briefings from Patel's and May's camps. WTF?
It’s so strange, isn’t it? I’ve always thought Priti Patel was sensible... why would she hold meetings secretly when she already has an interesting career? It doesn’t make sense. Surely she’d have known she would be found out too There must be more to this.
Priti Patel's behaviour makes her appear either very stupid or very arrogant.
She seems to have a complete inability to separate her professional title and job from her holiday and social life.
As international development secretary she could have had an official trip to Israel if she was so desperate to have meetings there, although her role is usually more concerned with developing countries so Israel seems an odd choice, Palestine is more in need of development so combining the 2 countries so as not to appear to be pro-Israeli would be more sensible.
Pretending it was a holiday seems bizarre. It was just a string of official meetings. The people she was meeting only wanted to meet her because of her official title and influence therefore it was an official visit.
It's a bit beyond strange...
For instance the FCO claim they didn't know anything about her visits until a few days ago.
Now... Unless we appointed Stevie Wonder to Tel Aviv and asked him never to go outside or meet with Israeli officials this is about as credible as the BBC claiming impartiality on any story mentioning Israel.
Stephen Pollard from the Jewish chronicle might have the answer. He was briefed to expect a good news story regarding UK Israeli relations and aid disbursement. But that whilst all signed and sorted the FCO was holding it up as they hadn't been consulted and had chucked toys out of their pram.
The problem here being that as we don't recognise some of the areas where aid is needed ( Golan heights?), we cannot therefore send it.
So for this news story to be as presented we'd have to believe that no-one from the embassy had talked to any government officials since early September. Frankly British govt ministers visiting Israel isn't a common occurrence. Also that no-one keeps even a casual eye on who their Prime Minister is talking to. Or the other eleven.
Clearly nothing gets past these foreign office chaps eh? If Kim Jong-un was in town trying to buy stuff he need not worry about James Bond being on his case!
It gets weirder though. Priti Patel apologised for not telling the FCO and received a reminder about the ministerial code. In other words a slap on the wrist.
The BBC then claimed that Priti had lied because they had evidence of two further "secret" meetings. Which it has to be said sounds rather sinister.
That their evidence came from the twitter feeds of those concerned, and that one of those meetings was to discuss the rise in antisemitism on the left is a tadge ironic. Last time I had a secret meeting I forgot to tweet it to the entire world, but I'm forgetful like that.
At which point her services were dispensed with.
If there was an accord signed and sealed but for Boris' strop then Number Ten clearly knew.
The FCO likes to think of itself as Arabist. Others use more common terms. With Boris already in trouble over yet another gaffe I'm guessing they've briefed against Miss Patel to cover their own backs.
Priti Patel is a very bright and capable lass. Not the sort I'd want to make an enemy of.
Looking a bit deeper into it.
Alistair Burt, who apparently is our minister for the Middle East ( me neither) , was in Jerusalem at the same time. He met various low ranking govt officials whilst Priti was wining and dining the bigwigs. Most interestingly she said she had discussed Netanyahu's upcoming state visit.
Which couldn't possibly be more the FCO's job, and indeed specifically Burt's. You don't book a coach tour on holiday and accidentally end up talking to the Prime Minister about upcoming state events.
You simply can't without going through the Foreign Office.
Hence Priti's initial response, to ask the FCO as they knew all about it, now makes sense.
It was a meeting originally scheduled for Burt but which she took over despite being on holiday. Meanwhile Burt was tweeting whilst wearing daft baseball caps and doing minor trade promotion sorts of things. Nothing that really seems to justify his trip there. You can point to a Roll Royce engine from Heathrow.
So Boris tells the BBC to look into it. Patel merely responds to ask the foreign office.
At which point Boris denies any knowledge....
As too does the entire FCO.
FCO say they didn't know in advance
So - she went on holiday (Embassy might have known she was there on holiday, but if no official visits planned in the margins, they wouldn't have been involved beyond that).
Somehow she arranged and attended private meetings.
Guesswork - at some point, FCO found out, probably from their contact with Israeli officials. Report back, FCO and DfiD start working out WTFIGO and if any of it matters, and what to do next to put things back on track.
Then it all goes public in UK, SofS says FCO/Boris knows - which by that stage they did - in the (faint) hope no-one will notice the timeline. Someone did, and Boris (who may have been helping damage limitation to that point) refuses to go as far as saying he knew in advance when he didn't. All goes rapidly very pear-shaped at that point.
"Somehow she arranged and attended private meetings."
With a prime minister?
Simply not credible. Charity heads and whatnot quite possibly, but no-one is really bothered about her meeting such.
Prime ministers and ministers of state have their diaries booked up weeks and months in advance.
In fact I'm hearing that there was an FCO official present at one of the supposedly secret meetings... Which they supposedly didn't know about.
They both met with him.
Priti and Alistair Burt both met the Foreign Minister together, allegedly.
I should probably explain something here...
There is nothing wrong or against the ministerial code with meeting foreign diplomats in your own time. Politicians wear different hats, just as civil servants do.
The ministry has no business interfering with your branch, conference, constituency or private life.
There's a difference between a minister conducting ministerial business and the same politician conducting their own personal life or party political business. Even though it can be the same person talking to the same people even potentially about the same or similar things.
Hence Patel could have said she met various friends on holiday. And that would be fine. Or she could have said she met them purely in her capacity as a Conservative politician. That too would be fine.
If however she is meeting them in her capacity as a minister, then rules apply. It's clear enough that they do here as some form of policy initiative came out of it.
She'll have been quite aware of this distinction.
Foreign office now starting to change their story...
One of their 'junior officials' bumped into Priti apparently. On the 24th August. Same day both of them met with Yuval Rotem.
And the same day the Israeli press covered the meetings. And the same day a report of the meeting with Netanyahu ( confusingly he's technically the Foreign minister as well as Prime Minister) was given to our deputy Ambassador. Of the FCO..
So if these were beyond protocol secret meetings then the FCO would have raised them with the PM three months ago.
Instead the visit which Patel was helping to arrange went ahead and Netanyahu had dinner with May on the 2nd October. Yet she only knew of his meeting with Priti from the BBC reports on the 3rd October.
This has the potential to blow up...
The context to all this is, I think, a beautiful ambush earlier this year.
May called a snap general election and immediately the charities and international aid agencies acted in concert as clearly Tory policy was up for grabs.
Whilst the tory manifesto was being written lobbyists and the like boxed the tories in with a grid of media appearances and stories, all with the intent of making foreign aid the first item on the agenda.
To say it worked would be an understatement, as an example of how to influence government policy it was sublime. Hence in the first week of campaigning May was backed into a corner and reaffirmed the commitment to 0.7% of GDP spent on aid.
Which is a lot. For every £9 spent on the NHS £1 is spent on foreign aid, though confusingly a lot of it isn't spent by the DfiD. Other departments have access to it and about £5 billion is merely given to the EU to dispense as they see fit. Which of course doesn't the bus figures or public discourse.
It's also a bit of a slush fund. Mitchel's project Umabano could be seen, by those of a cynical eye, to be a way of both recruiting future MPs with the promise of a well funded trip to Africa's orphanages and of getting plenty of later useful photos of them surrounded by grateful children.
Prepositioned paid virtue signalling if you like. ;)
Course the DfiD used to be part of the Foreign Office and when it was split off the FCO saw the vast majority of their budget go with it. It's influence too, show me the money has more of an effect than pretty speeches.
Supposedly the Foreign Office is the higher ministry though as in business one's actual power can be measured by the size of cheque one is authorised to sign. The DfiD had 8 times the resources so the potential for conflicts between departments was obvious and a crafty solution enacted.
All junior ministers in the DfiD would also be junior ministers in the FCO. Alistair Burt for instance is both minister of state for international development and minister of state for the Middle East. Rory Stewart likewise double hatted.
Hence the idea that the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing is patent nonsense.
So come early October Boris is on manoeuvres with his Brexit red lines which are being studiously ignored by Theresa the Appeaser.
Netanyahu is in town for the Balfour declaration celebratory dinner.
Boris needs to throw his weight around as being ignored isn't a sign of power and his usual gaffes have put him in hot water.
So he launches a power grab..
"Speaking to The Sun Mr Johnson also revealed plans to takeover of the Department for International Development which has its own £13billion budget."
Maybe not directly related but this is extraordinary...
I'm increasingly thinking that our massive foreign aid budget is less about the virtue signalling of politicians or doing the right thing than merely to overcomes the Foreign Office's weaknesses.
You would struggle to find a smugger bunch than the FCO. They pride themselves on elitism, and have the association with MI6 and a James Bondesque persona which doesn't exactly promote modesty.
If you watch the Foreign Affairs select committee, when the mandarins are trying their best not to give evidence, it's remarkably difficult not to want to start chucking bricks at them. I doubt their attitude had any relevance in the 1950s.
The problem is that these are the people who conduct our diplomacy around the world.
Frankly you'd have to tie a pork chop around their necks to get your dog to play with them.
If you think about the point of view of a newly elected government in Wombleland meeting their British diplomatic delegation for the first time you're going to be rather suspicious of them from the outset. It's no great secret that embassies and the like with their secure comms and diplomatic immunity are hubs for the intelligence services.
If our ambassadors are the sort of people that the head bods in the FCO think are good chaps then.... Your influence is going to be negligible going on counterproductive in most parts of the world. Sure there's plenty of places where, shall we say, robust traditional values of English intellectualism are quite effective. A few anyway.
Most I suspect though would consider them to be cock snogging muppets looking down their noses at the natives.
Offhand I've heard that the FCO were quietly and confidently briefing foreign governments that brexit was not going to happen, the referendum a sure thing and the EU was the place to be.
Hence June 24th just about everyone of importance around the world realised that the government department responsible for understanding host countries and providing intelligence didn't even have a clue about it's own country. :D
I mean. Lol.
Course the civil service as a whole doesn't do embarrassment. Though they were then saddled with Boris Johnson. His very appointment saw foreign diplomats piss themselves laughing.
Not that any foreign minister has ever really had an affect upon the FCO. They have a simple choice between going native and letting the FCO do their own thing ( which rarely conforms to government policy) or suffering a series of embarrassments and being sacked. Even Margaret Thatcher couldn't tame them. The ministry of agriculture looks after the interests of cows and the Foreign Office looks after the interests of foreigners she used to say.
So I'm guessing these uber elite mandarins enjoying their 'might be a James Bond on the sly' image get a bit of a shock when their wordy condescension is received with less than warmth around the world. In short their influence is lacking.
Hence we have to give lots of money away, or else no-one will play with us. Hence why they are once again trying to nick the DfiD budget, along with others.
Or even pay lots of money, frozen in a long lost bank account from the days of the Shah ( so no-one will really miss it anyway), to prevent the embarrassment of a diplomatic failure after our Boris gaffed.
After all those nice Persians will put the foreign capital to good use, humanitarian use maybe?
The world gets crazier by the day.
Please login first.