UK politician resigns after 'white Bronco' return to UK

Britain's crisis-prone government has lost a second senior minister in as many weeks, after a sometimes-farcical live broadcast of Priti Patel's journey to a political execution.

Prime Minister Theresa May summoned the Secretary of State for International Development back from a trip to Africa after it emerged she had failed to reveal all the details of private meetings with Israeli politicians and officials.

Ms Patel's lack of transparency left her open to accusations that she was undermining British foreign policy, and even acting as the agent of a foreign power.

Her allies painted it as an innocent mistake, but opponents called it an unforgivable betrayal of government solidarity.

Tens of thousands of political junkies used plane tracking website Flight Radar 24 to follow Ms Patel's plane's progress on its long journey back from Nairobi as she returned to an increasingly certain fate.

News channels covered her plane landing live, and media including a BBC helicopter trailed Ms Patel from the airport to a meeting with Mrs May.

More than a few noted the similarities to OJ Simpson's infamous 'white Bronco' freeway chase.

The prime minister allowed Patel the dignity of a resignation rather than being sacked, but few had expected she would emerge from 10 Downing Street on Wednesday evening as a government minister.

However confusion reigned over the details of the affair, as a British newspaper reported that Number Ten had indeed been aware of the extra details of Patel's meetings, but had asked her not to make them public.

The editor of the Jewish Chronicle said he had the story from senior and reliable sources, but it was flatly denied by the prime minister's office.

Mrs May, in her letter accepting Ms Patel's resignation from government, said it was "right" that she had decided to resign "and adhere to the high standards of transparency and openness that you have advocated".

In her resignation letter, Ms Patel offered a "fulsome" apology to the prime minister and the government, saying her actions "were meant with the best of intentions" but had fallen below the standards expected of a secretary of state.

Her words, probably unconsciously, echoed the words of former defence secretary Michael Fallon's resignation letter a week ago, in which he accepted that "in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the armed forces that I have the honour to represent", in relation to his behaviour towards women.

The Patel scandal began last Friday when the BBC reported that Ms Patel had met senior politicians and discussed government business when on holiday in Israel in August.

She had failed to alert the Foreign Office of the meetings, contrary to government policy, the report said.

Ms Patel then denied to the Guardian that she had broken the ministerial code, telling the newspaper "Boris [Johnson, foreign secretary] knew about the visit". She blamed the Foreign Office for briefing against her.

But on Monday under increasing pressure she released a statement of clarification, admitting that "in hindsight" her "enthusiasm to engage" with people and organisations in Israel "could be mis-read".

Her apology was followed by a list of 12 meetings she had arranged on that holiday, including one with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

And she said the Foreign Office had been aware of her visit, "but not in advance of it".

Mrs May had not known about those meetings - including the one with the Israeli PM, until Friday. She had summoned Patel to her office and reminded her of her obligations - political code for a telling-off.

But compromising details continued to emerge: such as when she returned from the trip she had asked her officials to look at giving aid to the Israeli army in the Golan Heights.

And it was reported that Patel had not included on her list a visit to an Israeli military hospital in the Golan Heights. This was a breach of diplomatic protocol, as Britain considers the Golan Heights to be an occupied part of Syria.

And The Sun reported on Wednesday that Patel held two more secret meetings in September, with an Israeli minister in London and an official in New York - Yuval Rotem, the former Israeli ambassador to Australia.

At that point Mrs May summoned Ms Patel back from Africa, where she had been just about to begin a three-day official visit.

There seemed little alternative to sacking her, though it creates a new political headache for Mrs May.

In addition to Mr Fallon's resignation, and resentment over his replacement by an inexperienced ally of Mrs May, the prime minister's deputy Damian Green is under investigation by the Cabinet Office over sexual misconduct allegations, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has faced calls for his sacking over a slip of the tongue that may have endangered a woman held in prison in Iran.

With Brexit getting closer, Mrs May needs a Cabinet finely balanced between the Remainers and Leavers in her party - a task made harder as scandals thin the available pool of talent.

This story UK politician resigns after 'white Bronco' return to UK first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.