Priti Patel’s sacking could yet prove politically expensive for Theresa May. But it is already clear that in monetary terms alone it will go down as one of the most costly cabinet departures ever – at just short of £8,000, in the Guardian’s carefully constructed estimate.
The abortive round trip to Nairobi would have cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds in wasted air fares which could have been avoided if Patel had been prepared to face up to her critics.
Patel was scheduled to go on an pre-arranged visit to Africa on Tuesday. The flight was due to leave at 5.25pm that day with many pressing questions unanswered about her undeclared meetings with Israeli officials.
It was no surprise that the Speaker granted Kate Osamor, Patel’s opposite number, an urgent Commons question on Tuesday lunchtime. Patel had time to appear in the Commons in person to face the wrath of MPs and still catch the 5.25pm flight.
But rather than stay, or even cancel her trip, she opted to get an earlier flight to Nairobi at 10.10am. Patel was therefore conveniently in the air while Alistair Burt, her deputy, was fielding tricky questions about her meetings on that holiday to Israel.
Changing flight plans on Kenya Airways comes at a penalty of £240 on some business class tickets, but only if a day’s notice is given. If the Telegraph is correct in suggesting that Patel brought forward the flight at the last minute, new tickets would have had to be purchased.
Patel’s former department has yet to give full details of the cost of the trip which she is understood to have made with her private secretary. But two last-minute business class returns to Nairobi on Kenya Airways would cost up to £5,878, according to the airline’s website.
On Wednesday morning, Patel was due to fly to Entebbe in Uganda with Liam Fox, the trade secretary, and the rest of the entourage. But before boarding, she was summoned back to London by the prime minister on another last-minute flight for two.
Two business returns from Nairobi to Entebbe would have added another £1,823 to the cost of the trip.
The costs of the flights have not been disclosed but the Department for International Development insists that Patel’s Tuesday flight to Nairobi was brought forward the previous Thursday and there was no extra charge. It said Patel and her secretary stayed at the home of the high commissioner in Nairobi and so avoided accommodation costs.
Osamor added that it was unacceptable for Patel not to answer questions in the Commons about her meetings with Israelis.
She said: “It was simply unacceptable that Priti Patel failed to show up to the urgent question in parliament. She should not have been allowed to get on that plane. We deserve to know how much this fiasco has ended up costing the British taxpayer.”
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