Free Press Journal

British politics: The fallout of Priti Patel’s fall


REUTERS/Baz Ratner - RC1C00218B50

It is learnt that the US President, Donald Trump, is also not very happy with Theresa May. In this situation, it would be interesting to watch May’s next steps to retain her  power and ensure better foothold for the Tories in Britain.

“Events were cowards: they did not occur singly, but instead they would run in packs and leap out at him all at once”, said Neil Gaiman, a noted English short story writer. How true? The British Prime Minister Theresa May must be experiencing this situation. The recent developments, those involve the only minority ethnic woman in May’s Cabinet, Priti Patel, was forced to step down as international development minister after reports emerged of her undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials. The 45-year-old conservative MP had cut short her trip to Uganda and Ethiopia and flew back to London on Wednesday after being urgently summoned by May.

Though Indian media have not given the coverage to this event that it deserves, Priti’s resignation has many angles and dimensions.  For Indians, Priti is of Indian origin and an expatriate from African nation Uganda. She was the first and only woman of Indian origin to rise to the position of a senior minister in the British Government. She was promoted to the level of Secretary for Foreign Development only in June when the Conservative Party under May had received a major jolt in the mid-term elections reducing the ruling side to minority. May survived only after she received support from minor parties and groups at the last minute. Now she is struggling to retain the wafer-thin majority to rule Britain. Priti met May for just six minutes at No 10 Downing Street. In her resignation letter, Priti Patel said her actions “fell below the high standards that are expected of a secretary of state”.

Part of her job to meet foreign diplomats? It is part of her job profile, but she failed to disclose these meetings.

Priti Patel, while on holiday in August, met several Israeli politicians and businessmen without informing the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office or the Prime Minister’s Office. She has, however, denied any wrongdoing the same day the BBC reported of her meetings. In an interview with the Guardian, Priti claimed that foreign secretary Boris Johnson was aware of her Israel visit, but the Foreign Office officials had briefed against her.

On Monday last, she was forced to apologise and retract her claims after a meeting with May. She also admitted to meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s security minister. She disclosed that she had met Israeli officials at least 12 times in the country. The things were getting messy and May was forced to cut a sorry figure because what Priti did was diagonally opposite to the norms and practices observed in British political system for centuries.

After the BBC first reported of her undisclosed meetings, Priti assured May that she isn’t withholding any further information about her Israeli visit. This quickly changed when reports emerged that Priti asked her office to divert UK aid money to the Israeli army for relief work in the Golan Heights, a disputed territory that the UK doesn’t recognise.

Then it was like opening floodgates of news, grapevine and rumours. More reports followed stating Priti met two senior Israeli officials after her return from the country. An Israeli paper also claimed she visited a military hospital in the Golan Heights. She flouted all norms by visiting an area that always remained in the eye of storm and there is an international controversy over the ownership of the Golan Heights region between Israel and Arab nations. Finally, Priti stepped down heralding a sudden closure to her assenting political career.

Priti had swung in to the top political circles being a staunch champion of Brexit policy that had caused May’s predecessor his position. Priti being seen in the Conservative Party’s upper circles as close follower of Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, her rise was in leaps and bounces. Being of ethnic South Asian community, Priti soon became a known face amidst non-Caucasian communities, particularly among Indians who constitute a sizable population in Britain. Being young and articulate, also able administrator, she was tipped for holding the top job of the British system in near future, say about a decade later. However, her dreams and ambitions are now stuck at least for a time being due to her most unceremonial exit from the government.

A Gujarati-speaking Priti became the second minister to resign in recent weeks, following the exit of Sir Michael Fallon as Defence Secretary. Fallon stepped down after being accused of sexual harassment, a claim he categorically denies. One of May’s closest allies Damian Green is also being investigated by the Cabinet’s office over similar allegations. There also have been calls for May to sack her foreign secretary Boris Johnson after his failed intervention in freeing a British woman jailed in Iran. May’s government, which is in the minority, has been hit by a string of controversies since she lost the House majority in June.

The timing of these bitter experiences is also crucial. After the British referendum on Brexit, the British Parliament is bound to adopt certain bills and amend regulations to make the changes effective. In this situation, the Labour Party and more importantly May’s opponents within the Conservative Party are eagerly awaiting in the wings for her exit. It is learnt that the US President, Donald Trump is also not very happy with May. In this situation, it would be interesting to watch May’s next steps to retain her power and ensure better foothold for the Tories in Britain. There is a possibility that the dissident groups in Ireland who are in favour of remaining in the European Union (EU) may also start bringing in fresh pressure on the May Government. So what next for Priti Patel?

Another question is what does Priti do now? It is difficult to believe that she would close her political ambitions and take up her PR assignments again. The Guardian says she could help apply pressure on May from the pro-Brexit wing of the party.  Her exit is being viewed as a blow for Brexiters.

In short, the UK politics along with Priti’s career are on a risky sharp turn. Hopefully, both shall find solution to survive.

The author is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).