Labour’s deputy leader says the current political turmoil could topple Theresa May at any time, as he suggested Priti Patel’s secret meetings in Israel had been “suppressed” by No 10.
Tom Watson has written to the Prime Minister demanding further details of the sacked Cabinet minister’s summer talks – pointing to evidence the Foreign Office had known about them at the time.
“I was told that the Foreign Office deliberately asked Downing Street to remove details of the briefing she received from Foreign Office officials when she was in Israel,” Mr Watson claimed.
“If true, it shows that there was knowledge that Priti Patel was running a sort of independent foreign policy earlier – and that she’s not been sacked for breaching the ministerial code in doing that, but she’s been sacked because it became public that she was doing that.”
The allegation came as the deputy leader echoed a report that EU leaders now suspect the Cabinet chaos in London could trigger the Government’s downfall.
“It does seem to me that we are in a very unstable situation at the heart of government and that random events could bring the Government down,” Mr Watson agreed.
“We are ready with our manifesto, we would be prepared to go into a general election with a bold set of policies.”
Mr Watson said he had been told that the former International Development Secretary met officials from the British consulate general in Jerusalem, while on “holiday” in August.
That appeared to prove the Foreign Office had known all along – posing the critical question of whether the Prime Minister had been informed.
The letter posed nine questions, including whether there were “any minutes taken” and whether Ms Patel was “acting with your authorisation”.
“Why was it not made public that Priti Patel had met British consular officials during her visit to Israel?” Mr Watson demanded to know.
“Did you, or did the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office], request that information about Priti Patel meeting British consular officials be suppressed? If so, why? If not, why was it not published?”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “I would like to know the facts of this case, because it is very unusual.”
Meanwhile, The Times reported one European leader saying Brussels is now considering all options, from the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal to a decision to reverse Brexit.
“There is the great difficulty of the leadership in Great Britain, which is more and more fragile. Britain is very weak and the weakness of Theresa May makes [Brexit] negotiations very difficult,” the leader said.
If Ms May is ejected from office, she would be replaced by another Conservative leader – unless Tory MPs vote to overturn the Fixed Term Parliaments Act to stage another general election.
Given the current Conservative weakness, that is highly unlikely, but Mr Watson added: “If Theresa May collapses, then the country is in a very bad place and would require a general election.”
The Prime Minister is expected to move quickly to replace Ms Patel, who resigned last night admitting her actions in Israel “fell below the high standards expected”.
However, a full reshuffle is not expected, as a weakened Ms May seeks to limit the fallout while coming under pressure to appoint another hard Brexit supporter to preserve Cabinet “balance”.