Ministers meet business people ‘by accident’, says cabinet colleague amid claims Home Secretary Priti Patel broke ministerial rules at hotel meeting

A cabinet minister has suggested senior politicians can meet top business people “by accident” amid claims about Home Secretary Priti Patel’s dealings with a billionaire Conservative donor.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said her cabinet colleagues had to be “transparent” about who they meet with, as she was quizzed about allegations surrounding Ms Patel.

The home secretary was reported by the Sunday Mirror to have arranged a lunch meeting on 11 August at Heathrow Airport’s Hilton Garden Inn, which is part of a chain owned by Tory donor Surinder Arora.

Mr Arora and other senior employees of the Arora Group, along with Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths and British Airways corporate affairs director Lisa Tremble, were also reported to be present at the meeting, along with Ms Patel and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

However, the newspaper said no official from the Home Office was present, as required under ministerial rules if government business was being discussed.

Ms Coffey said she was unaware about the details of Ms Patel’s meeting but told Sky News: “What I am aware of is sometimes you do end up meeting people, perhaps by accident, and you have a conversation.”

Told that Ms Patel’s meeting was not an accident, the work and pensions secretary added: “One of the things, if you’re not there with a private secretary, is that you pass the information on to the officials and then it’s dealt with by the private office.

“I know from my own experience is sometimes you do see people. As long as you pass on the information, that’s what matters to make sure that the civil servants have the record and they can declare that in the appropriate way.”

Ms Coffey revealed how she met somebody while on holiday but who turned out to be a supplier to her department.

“I didn’t know them at all but it turns out they were a supplier to DWP,” she added.

“So, again, I share the fact that by chance at somebody’s party that I met somebody who was there.

“I don’t know details of Priti but it’s important we just make sure it’s transparent in that regard with our civil servants and they can use the information accordingly.”

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Labour have called for an immediate investigation into Ms Patel’s “reckless” Heathrow meeting and accused the home secretary of being a “serial offender with no regard for the ministerial code”.

In 2017, Ms Patel was forced to resign as International Development Secretary following unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials.

The home secretary is understood to have considered the Heathrow meeting a private lunch that she did not attend in an official capacity.

A spokesman for Ms Patel said: “Details of all the home secretary’s relevant external meetings will be published in the usual way in accordance with the ministerial code.”

Mr Kwarteng is said to have attended the meeting in his role as a local MP as Heathrow borders his Spelthorne constituency.

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