PRITI Patel’s depature as International Development Secretary was overdue. From the moment it was reported last week that she held unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians accompanied by a powerful lobbyist, it was clear that she had respect for neither protocol nor common sense.

Theresa May should have sacked her on the spot, but characteristically let it drift.

At the time she was, perhaps understandably, preoccupied with sexual scandal sweeping through Westminster and the upper reaches of the Conservative party.

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READ MORE: Theresa May's authority damaged again as Priti Patel finally resigns

She had just lost Sir Michael Fallon as her Defence Secretary, created an almighty row by installing her chief whip Gavin Williamson as his replacement, and saw the sharks circling her de facto deputy Damian Green.

But it is a Prime Minister’s job to be on top of many issues at once. In not sacking Ms Patel, Mrs May gave the impression of not being on top of anything.

Ms Patel went behind Downing Street’s back to hold a series of meetings without her officials.

She met the Prime Minister of Israel, and visited the occupied Golan Heights, which the UK has refused to recognise since Israel took them from Syria in 1967.

READ MORE: Did British Consulate staff meet 'rogue' ex-minister Patel in Jerusalem?

Back in the UK, she asked her officials to examine whether aid money could be sent to the Israeli army in the Golan.

Ms Patel compounded her wrongdoing by initially giving the impression there had been just a handful of chance encounters while on holiday in August.

In fact there were 12, and more on her return to the UK.

She falsely claimed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was aware of her meetings in advance.

Downing Street was also misled, only learning key facts from the BBC’s excellent reporting.

Ms Patel’s freelance mission was a breach of the ministerial code and could have muddled UK foreign policy in one of the most sensitive areas of the world.

But Mrs May merely rebuked Ms Patel on Monday, and considered the matter closed.

That was wishful thinking by a Prime Minister too weak to sack a prominent Brexit supporter from her cabinet for fear of inflaming her unbiddable right-wing.

Mrs May then allowed Ms Patel to slip out of the country on Tuesday on a three-day trip to Africa, helping her avoid a grilling in the Commons.

After more details emerged that she had misled the Prime Minister on other matters, she was swiftly recalled from for a by-now inevitable denouement.

In the end, Ms Patel had the option of quitting rather than being sacked as she deserved.

“It is right that you have decided to resign,” Mrs May said in her parting whimper.

That this episode reflects badly on Ms Patel goes without saying, despite her “fulsome apology”.

But the greater damage is to Mrs May, showing how her weakness now breeds yet more weakness.

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She is a paper premier, only nominally in charge of the country, hostage to the tensions and indiscipline in her own party.

Her government is in a death spiral. The nation deserves better.