Priti Patel has effectively been sacked by Theresa May after it was revealed she held undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials.
Downing Street confirmed on Wednesday evening that after a 33-minute meeting the international development secretary had ‘resigned’ from her post, though she had been forced to tender her resignation by the PM.
Patel, 45, was ordered by the prime minister this morning to abandon an official trip to Africa and return home.
At one point, 22,000 people were tracking her Kenya Airways flight live online as she made her way back to the UK to get sacked.
After the meeting, the MP admitted her “actions fell below the high standards that are expected” in her formal resignation letter to May, a line that echoed Sir Michael Fallon’s justification for quitting as Defence Secretary a week ago.
A friend of the fallen cabinet minister told HuffPost UK: “She’s a tough cookie and she’s not finished yet.”
In her resignation letter, Patel said: “In recent days there have been a number of reports about my actions and I am sorry that these have served as a distraction from the work of the Department for International Development and the government as a whole.
“As you know from our discussions I accept that in meeting with organisations and politicians during a private holiday in Israel my actions fell below the high standards that are expected of a secretary of state.
“While my actions were meant with the best of intentions, my actions also fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated.”
In response, the Prime Minister said: “Now that further details have come to light, it is right that you have decided to resign.”
In a letter to the former cabinet minister, May said that close allies the UK and Israel should work closely together but “that must be done formally, and through official channels”.
“That is why, when we met on Monday, I was glad to accept your apology and welcomed your clarification about your trip to Israel over the summer,” she wrote.
The resignation came after Patel’s protracted return to the UK from Kenya, which was played out most of the day on social media.
BBC News broadcast live pictures of Patel’s plane as it landed at Heathrow airport and then followed her ministerial car from a helicopter as it drove to London.
Patel’s is the second Cabinet departure in the space of a week as May’s government appears increasingly unstable.
Sir Michael was forced to quit as defence secretary following allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards women.
Boris Johnson is also facing renewed calls to resign as foreign secretary for a diplomatic blunder that risks extending a jail term for a British woman arrested in Iran.
Patel, a Brexiteer, was a key part of the Vote Leave campaign during the EU referendum. She was appointed development secretary in 2016 after May became prime minister.
The scandal that led to Patel’s departure erupted last week when she admitted to holding meetings in Israel while on holiday in August, including with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
However the Foreign Office was only made aware of the meetings on August 24 - after the meetings took place.
By convention ministers who plan to meet with foreign officials abroad inform the FCO.
On Friday November 3, when the meetings were made public by the BBC, Patel claimed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was aware of them in advance.
But on Monday November 6, she had to admit this was not true.
Theresa May met Patel in person on Monday to reprimand her for her actions. MPs were told Downing Street then regarded the “matter as closed”.
But on Tuesday evening it emerged she held two further undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials in September.
She met Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in Parliament on September 7 and foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York on September 18.
However in a twist, the Jewish Chronicle reported on Wednesday that No.10 did know about the meeting with Rotem - but asked Patel not to make it public. Downing Street has denied the claim.
After returning from her trip to Israel, Patel asked officials at the Department for International Development (Dfid) to examine whether UK aid money could be given to the Israeli army in the Golan Heights.
She was told by her departmental civil servants as this would be “not appropriate” as the UK does not recognise the legality of Israel’s occupation of the territory.
Haaretz also reported Patel visited a military field hospital in the Golan Heights set up to treat refugees from Syria.
The chaos comes as Brexit Secretary David Davis prepares to conduct the next round of negotiations with the EU.