ANALYSIS: Does Priti Patel row prove that Theresa May is in office but not in power?

Posted On: 
6th November 2017

How must Mark Garnier feel this afternoon?

Priti Patel maintains the Prime Minister's full confidence
Credit: 
PA Images

Last Sunday, the trade minister made the front page of the Mail on Sunday over allegations that he once made his secretary buy not one but two sex toys in Soho.

He hasn't denied the story, which happened several years before he even became a minister.

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Regardless, before the day was out Theresa May had announced there would be an investigation into whether Garnier's actions amounted to a breach of the ministerial code.

Fast forward a few days until last Friday, when the BBC's excellent diplomatic correspondent, James Landale, revealed International Development Secretary Priti Patel had held secret meetings with senior Israeli politicians during a family holiday.

Patel - and Downing Street - insisted she had done nothing wrong, insisting she paid for the trip herself and the Foreign Office was fully aware. It now transpires that was, to put it mildly, pretty disingenuous.

In a remarkable statement this afternoon, the Department for International Development revealed that among those Patel met in Israel was no less a figure than Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's Prime Minister. Not only that, but the FCO was not informed about the trip until after she was already in the country.

Patel didn't think it was worth telling Theresa May that she had met with a foreign leader on Friday morning - more than two months after she had returned to the UK.

At a briefing for Westminster journalists this afternoon, a Downing Street spokesman said Theresa May did not believe Patel had broken the ministerial code and therefore she considered the matter to be closed.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that had she been a more expendable minister - Mark Garnier, for instance - or if the Prime Minister was in a position of strength, Patel would have faced a Cabinet Office inquiry at best, and her P45 at worst.

Of course, Patel is not out of the woods yet. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that the whole episode has shown yet again that Theresa May may be in office, but she is certainly not in power.