Priti Patel accused of breaking rules over Heathrow meeting with billionaire businessman

independent– Labour has accused Priti Patel of breaking the ministerial code by facilitating a meeting between a Tory donor and British Airway (BA).

The home secretary reportedly set up the meeting at a hotel in Heathrow Airport between Surinder Arora, a billionaire hotel magnate who has given money to Conservative MPs, and senior executives from BA.

As well as Ms Patel, the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was also reportedly present, and both did not have any civil servants from their departments with them, as the rules dictate there should be for such meetings.

Ms Patel was forced to stand down from her previous government post as international development secretary in 2017 after it emerged she had held private meetings with Israeli officials while on holiday without permission from the Foreign Office, which was deemed a breach of the ministerial code.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner told the Sunday Mirror: “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 breaks the rules and she has serious questions to answer. She must be investigated by the cabinet secretary immediately.”

Her shadow cabinet colleague Nick Thomas-Symonds also accused the home secretary of disregard for the code of conduct imposed on cabinet ministers

“Priti Patel previously broke the ministerial code by bullying her civil servants,” he told the same newspaper.

“The home secretary is so reckless about her duties it seems she takes part in meetings behind closed doors without an official present. As always with the Tories, the rules never apply to them.”

The meeting between Mr Arora and BA came just weeks after the hotelier, who is reportedly worth about £1.1bn, said his hotel chain needed all the help it could get from the government because of the Covid pandemic. Most of Mr Arora’s hotels are based around airports.

However, a government spokesperson said the meeting was not government business but a constituency matter as Mr Kwarteng’s constituency in Surrey borders Heathrow.

The BA executive, Lisa Tremble, who joined the meeting has also denied there was any “hard lobbying” or “set agenda” and said it was just an “informal lunch”.

This was echoed by Mr Arora, who insisted he did not do politics. “I’ve known Kwarsi and Priti for years,” he told the Sunday Mirror. “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.”

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