British aid minister Priti Patel has been forced from office over undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials after Prime Minister Theresa May sought to reassert her diminished authority as she negotiates Brexit.
Patel, a Brexit campaigner who is popular in the ruling Conservative Party, had to abandon a trip to Africa earlier on Wednesday after being summoned by May to answer questions on unsanctioned meetings that breached diplomatic protocol.
After a hastily arranged meeting not long after Patel landed in London, May's office released her minister's letter of resignation, in which Patel said her conduct in Israel had fallen "below the high standards" required of her post.
May responded in a letter, saying: "Now that further details have come to light, it is right that you have decided to resign and adhere to the high standards of transparency and openness that you have advocated."
It was not clear who would replace Patel, who held the meetings during a holiday in Israel earlier this year.
Under British protocol, a cabinet minister would normally organise meetings through the foreign office and be accompanied by officials, and visits with Israelis would typically be balanced with meetings with Palestinians.
It is the second resignation in May's top team in a week, underlining her weakness at a time when she faces the complicated task of unravelling more than 40 years of ties with the European Union and holding a deeply divided party together.
Patel's meetings with Israeli officials, which May's office said they were not aware of, and a reported visit to an Israeli army field hospital in the Golan Heights, have increased the pressure on the prime minister, who depends on a Northern Irish party in parliament to pass legislation.
But while acting quickly to force Patel to resign, the loss of an enthusiastic Brexit campaigner from her cabinet team of top ministers could mean that May faces greater pressure from lawmakers to pursue a clean break from the EU.
"Priti is more popular than Theresa, and has more contacts and influence overseas," a senior Conservative source said.
Patel was sacked a week after May's ally Michael Fallon, her defence secretary, resigned in a sexual harassment scandal that has also caught up two other ministers, including her deputy, Damian Green.
Her foreign minister, Boris Johnson, on Tuesday was pressed to apologise over remarks he made about a jailed aid worker in Iran, which critics said could prompt the Islamic Republic to hand her a longer jail term.