Future in doubt, British aid minister deals further blow to May


LONDON (Reuters) – British aid minister Priti Patel’s political future was in doubt on Wednesday over undisclosed meetings she held with Israeli officials, posing a new test of Prime Minister Theresa May’s authority as she negotiates Brexit.

Weaker than ever after losing her party’s majority in a June election, May faces another crisis after her defense minister resigned in a sexual harassment scandal, leaving the government with “the stench of death” to it, according to one opposition lawmaker.

Patel, a Brexit campaigner whose views chime with many in the governing Conservative Party, was heading back to London after cancelling meetings on a planned trip to Africa, an official at her Department for International Development said.

Asked whether she should be dismissed, Conservative lawmaker Crispin Blunt, former chair of the influential foreign affairs select committee, told Reuters it was a “matter for the PM.”

Patel apologized 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.

Last week, close May ally Michael Fallon, the defense minister, was forced to resign over a growing sexual misconduct scandal in parliament.

The potential loss of another minister will further unsettle May, who, while struggling to push talks to leave the European Union forward, has faced criticism from opponents for her handling of everything from a deadly apartment block fire this year to the ongoing sexual harassment claims.

“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.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Michael Holden, Andrew MacAskill; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and John Stonestreet

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