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Smith Square Review – 10 November 2017

Patel not sitting Priti

Theresa May was forced into another reshuffle of her beleaguered Cabinet this week, losing her second Minister in the space of seven days. Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel was the next out of the door on Wednesday.

The writing was on the wall for Patel last Friday. It was then revealed that whilst on a ‘family holiday’ in Israel in August, Patel had no less than 12 meetings with a variety of Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all without informing Number 10 or the Foreign Office.

Conducting her own freelance diplomacy explicitly goes against the ministerial code and flouts all security measures in place for foreign visits. But, to make matters worse for Patel, when initially questioned on the matter she appeared to play fast and loose with the truth, claiming that actually, the Foreign Office was aware of her activities.

Patel was then forced to this week issue an embarrassing line by line retraction to those comments, with one of the best worded press releases the Smith Square Review has ever seen.

Instead of just apologising, the release stated that “the Secretary of State regrets the lack of precision in the wording she used in these statements.” The lack of precision she refers to is saying that she did something when she in fact did not. Priti unprecise.

The final nail was hammered in Patel’s ministerial coffin when a further two meetings surfaced that she had unfortunately lacked the precision to disclose. This led to her being recalled from Africa to Number 10, with the media quite literally tracking her journey over Europe, into a ministerial car, and on to a fairly gridlocked drive from Heathrow to Westminster.

The pantomime took so long commentators wondered if, in true Patel fashion, she had actually sacked herself and just not told anybody. But, in the end, it only took six minutes in Number 10 with May to end her Ministerial career, though she was given the courtesy of being able to resign herself.


Penny makes a splash with Theresa

Given the media frenzy surrounding the resignation of Priti Patel, there was always going to be a lot of scrutiny around her replacement. However, the task of selecting a new International Development Secretary was made even more difficult for Theresa May thanks to everyones favourite subject of discussion, Brexit.

To avoid implosion, May had carefully constructed her cabinet to represent all factions of the Brexit divide in the Conservative party equally. As Patel was a vocal Brexiteer, May would risk a backlash if she did not promote a Secretary of State in the same image.

Step forward new International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt.

Penny Mordaunt will retain the gender balance to the Cabinet, and most importantly, she was a vocal pro-Brexit voice in the referendum campaign (though she was not without her critics in this regard). Mordaunt also has sufficient ministerial experience, both in the Department for Work and Pensions and as Minister for the Armed Forces.

As long she resists the temptation to fulfill any lost bets with her first address of Parliament, she looks like something of a strong and stable appointment.


Sorry seems to be the hardest word 

“In an unprecedented display of propriety and altruism, the Foreign Secretary has resigned after his mistaken comments helped the Iranian Government level fresh charges against a British humanitarian worker and potentially add another 16 years to her sentence. The minister admits he was in error, and ought to have read his briefing note more closely.”

Only kidding. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in Tehran, April 2016, for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Revolutionary Guard’s regime by ‘recruiting and training spies’. Held in a high-security prison in the capital since then and without access to a lawyer, she is currently serving a 5-year sentence.

Last week, the ex-Mayor of London’s unscripted remark that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been “training journalists” in Iran were recorded by the Iranian authorities as further ‘proof’ of the spying charges levelled against her. This, unfortunately for Nazanin, was not true, and has the potential to greatly extend her time behind bars.

The perfunctory pontificator says many things – but the one thing we did not get from him was an apology, as we saw in his statement to the Commons this week.

It’s hard to think of a more poignant example of the very real ramifications of Boris’s ad-libbing. One wonders, has he gaffed his last?


Un-shore investments

Continuing on from last years ‘Panama Papers’, the release of the ‘Paradise Papers’ this week has led to another spotlight being shone on the UK’s tax avoidance problems.

Most significantly, the papers have shone a light on off-shore investments made by Prince Charles’ private estate, the Duchy of Cornwall. However, the main controversy surrounding Charles is not where the investment is but what it is. His trust invested in Sustainable Forestry Ltd and subsequently he has lobbied politicians to amend global agreements to allow ‘carbon credits’ from rainforests to be traded. Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life argued that this is a clear conflict of interest.

However, the Prince’s representatives have stated that he has campaigned for climate change legislation since the 1990s and recent campaigning has nothing to do with his investments. Indeed, the lobbying he undertook did not actually lead to any policy change.

Amongst all the controversy, conflict of interests and deception it’s only natural that a little hypocrisy is thrown in from the left. It has emerged that the Labour headquarters is being rented from an offshore firm, despite the predictable criticism from Jeremy Corbyn and co. of the practice. Despite this oversight, a spokesperson says that Labour will still campaign to change the current tax environment. Hopefully it does not put up their rent.


Souvenir of the week

With sackings in Wesminster happening on an almost daily basis, it will encourage those out of work to know that there is a life after politics. Just take Alex Salmond, who, fresh from a one man comedy act at Edinburgh Fringe Festival (insert joke here), has launched a brand new chat show…. on Kremlin backed channel Russia Today.