'Serial offender': Priti Patel blasted over 'reckless' donor meeting without officials

12 September 2021, 07:29 | Updated: 12 September 2021, 11:41

Patel is under fire over a Heathrow meeting
Patel is under fire over a Heathrow meeting. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Priti Patel has been accused of being "reckless" and a "serial offender" in breaching the ministerial code, amid allegations she brokered a meeting between a billionaire Tory donor and British Airways.

The Sunday Mirror reports the Home Secretary arranged a meeting on August 11 at the Hilton Garden Inn at Heathrow Airport, which is part of a chain owned by Surinder Arora, the Tory donor.

Invited to the meeting was Mr Arora, the chairman of the Arora Group, his son Sanjay, the business's strategy director, the group's chief financial officer Carlton Brown, Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths and BA corporate affairs director Lisa Tremble.

Sean Doyle, the BA chief executive, was reportedly invited but did not attend.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, was also at the meeting without anyone from his department, which the Sunday Mirror said was in his role as a local MP. Heathrow borders his constituency, Spelthorne.

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The Sunday Mirror said there was no official from the Home Office at the meeting, while rules say there should be if government business was discussed.

In the ministerial code, it is stated: "A private secretary or official should be present for all discussions relating to Government business.

"If a minister meets an external organisation or individual and finds themselves discussing official business without an official present - for example at a social occasion or on holiday - any significant content should be passed back to the department as soon as possible after the event."

It is understood Ms Patel considered it a private meeting and the lunch was declared to her private office.

A spokesman for the Home Secretary said: "Details of all the Home Secretary's relevant external meetings will be published in the usual way in accordance with the ministerial code."

However, memories are still fresh of when she had to resign as international development secretary in 2017, under Theresa May’s premiership, when she held unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "The Home Secretary is a serial offender with no regard for the ministerial code. It's time the Prime Minister took away her get out of jail free card.

"This secret lobbying lunch would break the rules three times over. She has serious questions to answer and must be investigated by the Cabinet Secretary immediately."

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour's shadow home secretary, said: "The Home Secretary is so reckless about her duties that it seems she takes part in meetings behind closed doors and without an official present."

Mr Arora told The Sunday Mirror: "I've known Kwarsi and Priti for years. I said pop in and have lunch and see my new hotel.

"I don't do politics. I don't support anyone. There wasn't any agenda."