Read more Devex analysis on the new DFID head Penny Mordaunt and what Patel's departure mean for the UK aid community.
LONDON — The United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel has resigned following media revelations about unauthorized meetings with Israeli officials, after which staff in the Department for International Development were asked to explore cooperation with the Israeli aid agency and army.
The news came following a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May in London on Wednesday evening.
The MP and former Royal Naval reservist has been named as U.K. secretary of state for international development, following the resignation of Priti Patel on Wednesday evening.
It comes after a BBC report published last week revealed the Conservative cabinet minister had held a series of undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while on holiday in the country in August. She also met with several aid and humanitarian organizations during the trip.
She failed to inform both the Foreign Office and the British embassy in Israel in advance of the meetings, breaking with convention in a possible breach of the ministerial code of conduct.
On Tuesday, it emerged that Patel had held two further undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials in September, in London and New York, where she met Yuval Rotem, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during the United Nations General Assembly.
After the meetings, she asked civil servants in the Department for International Development to explore whether it might be possible to send U.K. aid money to the Israeli army to support humanitarian operations in the occupied Golan Heights.
Speaking in the House of Commons, joint DFID and Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt — who is tipped as a possible replacement for Patel — said the suggestion had been made to support the Israeli army’s work providing medical care to Syrian refugees. But the idea was rejected as it was “not appropriate,” he said.
Burt also told MPs that Patel had asked DFID to explore closer cooperation with the Israeli aid agency following the meetings, and that “we are looking hard to see if there is room” for this.
Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tweeted a photo of himself with Patel in Westminster on September 7, writing: “We are taking concrete action to advance UK-Israel development cooperation.”
However, it is not clear if the meetings had any formal impact on aid policy.
Patel recently announced a slew of aid reforms at the Conservative Party conference last month, including conditions on funding to U.N. bodies and tighter oversight of private sector aid contractors. During her time in office, she had been a strong advocate of the use of aid in the national interest, arguing that it could be used to leverage better trade deals and to reduce undocumented migration to the U.K. She had also campaigned for broader rules for official development assistance, and significantly increased the amount of aid the U.K. could spend through its development finance institution, the CDC.
As the scandal escalated, Patel flew to Kenya on Tuesday ahead of an official visit to Uganda. But her meetings in Uganda were canceled, and she was forced to return to London on Wednesday to meet with May.
Number 10 said the prime minister only learned of Patel’s interest in supporting humanitarian work through the Israel Defence Forces from media reports. In a statement given to The Independent newspaper, a spokesperson highlighted that the Israeli army runs field hospitals in the Golan Heights “to care for Syrians wounded in the civil war.” However, they added that, “the U.K. doesn’t provide any financial support to the Israeli army” and that there is “no change of policy in this area.”
After Priti Patel's sudden departure as secretary of state for international development on Wednesday evening, Devex hears from members of the UK aid community as they wait to learn of her successor.
Patel, development secretary since July 2016, had previously worked in the Department for Education and in the Treasury.
Possible replacements include Burt, as well as fellow joint DFID and Foreign Office Minister Rory Stewart, although some observers say the prime minister may look to promote a woman to the role.