Minister refuses to answer ‘totally inappropriate question’ about Priti Patel’s Israel visit

Minister refuses to answer ‘totally inappropriate question’ about Priti Patel’s Israel visit

Sir Alan Duncan hit out at Labour's Ian Austin in parliament during an exchange at a Foreign Affairs Select Committee meeting

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Sir Alan Duncan
Sir Alan Duncan

A furious Sir Alan Duncan refused to answer a question at a Foreign Affairs Select Committee meeting in Parliament this week — because it concerned Priti Patel, the former International Development Secretary, who resigned after a series of meetings she had with Israeli officials during the summer became public.

Ms Patel’s friends complained bitterly at the time of her resignation that people within the Foreign Office had briefed against her, specifically alleging that Sir Alan, who is minister of state for Europe and the Americas at the Foreign Office, had leaked details of her 12 meetings with Israeli officials and politicians.

But when MP Ian Austin, a member of the Select Committee and of Labour Friends of Israel, attempted to confirm this allegation, Sir Alan flatly refused to respond, except to say: “We know exactly where you’re coming from on this and it is unacceptable”.

Mr Austin used the closing moments of Sir Alan’s witness testimony to the Select Committee — primarily about how Brexit would affect Foreign Office relations with Europe — to ask Sir Alan “when you first heard about Priti Patel’s visit to Israel and what you thought about that”. Sir Alan sharply replied: “No, you may not [ask this question]. I don’t think that’s relevant to this inquiry. I think that’s a totally inappropriate question for a minister appearing as a witness in front of this committee”.

Mr Austin said it was relevant insofar as it sought to answer questions about relations between the Foreign Office and other government departments. He said: “Lots of the stories [about Priti Patel] were full of comments or quotes attributed to Foreign Office sources. You’ve got well-known, strong views on this issue. Would you like to assure the committee that you weren’t the source of these stories?”

But Sir Alan had made his feelings plain that he would not respond to Mr Austin, and the committee chairman, Tom Tugenhat MP, announced: “I think we will move on.”

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