KQ plane carrying troubled UK minister gets rare global focus

Wednesday November 8 2017

Kenya Airways flight 100

Kenya Airways (KQ) flight 100 got huge attention on November 8, 2017 after thousands of internet users in the UK tracked it for hours as it carried British International Development Secretary Ms Priti Patel who is embroiled in a major scandal back home. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By KENFREY KIBERENGE
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By BBC
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Kenya Airways (KQ) got unsolicited advertisement worth millions of shillings Wednesday after thousands of internet users in the UK tracked one of its flights for hours.

At least 22,000 people were watching the plane make its way across continents, thanks to one of its passengers.

The UK's Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel was rumoured to be on board, ordered back from an official trip by Prime Minister Theresa May after finding herself in hot water over undeclared meetings.

The arrival of flight number KQ100 at Heathrow Airport was covered live on all major TV channels.

Ms Patel was ordered back from a trip to Africa to explain her talks with Israeli politicians, in which she reportedly raised the possibility of Britain diverting aid to the Israeli army.

She landed at 1510 GMT.

And on Twitter, users tracked the development using the hashtag #HasPritiLandedYet.

TV stations deployed helicopters and tracked her limo as it snaked through the busy London streets to 10 Downing Street where she was set to meet with Mrs May.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said "some kind of development" was expected on Wednesday and Ms Patel's sacking seemed "almost inevitable now".

Ms Patel had apologised on Monday for holding 12 separate meetings — including with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — during a family holiday to Israel in August, without notifying the Foreign Office or Downing Street in advance.

But there are now questions about further meetings held in September.

Ms Priti Patel

Britain's International Development Secretary Priti Patel who boarded KQ flight 100 to London on November 8, 2017. PHOTO | TOLGA AKMEN | AFP

Reprimanded

Ms Patel was formally reprimanded in Downing Street on Monday, where she was asked to give details about a dozen meetings she had with Israeli officials while on holiday, which were not sanctioned by the Foreign Office.

It has also now emerged that Ms Patel conducted two further meetings in September without government officials being present.

It is thought Lord Polak, an influential pro-Israeli Conservative campaigner, was present at both meetings.

Ms Patel met Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in Westminster on September 7.

Mr Erdan later tweeted about their meeting.

On September 18 she met foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York.

Syria refugees

It is not yet clear whether Ms Patel had informed the prime minister about these meetings or of her plans to look into giving taxpayers' money to the Israeli military to treat wounded Syrian refugees in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights region - a request that was turned down as "inappropriate" by officials.

In a further development on Wednesday, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper reported that in August, she visited an Israeli military field hospital in the Golan Heights - the UK, like other members of the international community, has never recognised Israeli control of the area seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

There was no immediate comment from the Department for International Development on the report.

Ms Patel was forced to correct the record earlier this week about the number of meetings that she had attended and when the Foreign Office had been notified about them.

The MP said she had been wrong to suggest to the Guardian that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson knew of the trip in advance when he had only learnt about it while it was under way.

Sacking?

In Parliament on Tuesday, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt - who was in Israel on official business at the same time as Ms Patel's unofficial visit in August – said that Downing Street regarded the matter "as closed" after Ms Patel had been reprimanded by the prime minister and reminded of her obligations under the ministerial code.

Ms Patel, who has been an MP since 2010, is a long-standing supporter of Israel and a former vice-chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel.

If she is sacked, Ms Patel would become the second cabinet minister in a week to leave May's government, after Michael Fallon quit as defence secretary on November 1 following allegations of sexual harassment.

Britain is facing a major challenge in Brexit, but May has struggled to keep her ministers in line since losing her Conservative parliamentary majority in a snap election in June.

Months of public divisions over the negotiations with the European Union have in recent days given way to scandals over foreign affairs and sexual abuse.

May's deputy Damian Green is being investigated for allegedly groping a journalist in 2014 — which he denies — while a similar probe is under way into the behaviour of junior trade minister Mark Garnier towards his secretary.

-Additional reporting by AFP.