Liam Fox sorry over relationship with Adam Werritty

Liam Fox: "I accept that were mistakes were made... I am very sorry for that"

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Defence Secretary Liam Fox has apologised over his working relationship with his former flatmate and best man Adam Werritty.

Mr Fox said it was "a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and my personal loyalties to a friend".

Mr Werritty, who is not employed by the MoD nor has national security clearance, joined meetings with Mr Fox.

The prime minister has demanded answers on Monday.

The defence secretary, who is back in Britain following a trip to Libya, now faces an MoD inquiry into his working relationship with Mr Werritty.

Mr Fox has also been under pressure over revelations that Mr Werritty, 34, made regular visits to see him at the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Analysis

By acknowledging he has made mistakes, Liam Fox clearly hopes to draw a line under this row.

But his apology may make little difference to whether or not he survives in his post.

What will determine his fate is not the extent of his apology, or indeed whether he has breached the ministerial code - it will be determined by whether the prime minister believes Mr Fox can carry on as defence secretary.

If Mr Cameron takes the view that Mr Fox is now too damaged, or unlikely to be able to focus fully on his job, or there are further allegations to emerge, he may decide he has to go.

Central to that decision will be the interim report on Mr Fox, which is due to be handed to the prime minister on Monday, and the nature of the media coverage.

In short, Mr Fox's fate still hangs in the balance.

The MoD investigation will examine whether Mr Fox broke the ministerial code by giving his friend access to the MoD and allowing him to go on official foreign trips.

The code requires ministers to ensure there is no conflict between their public duties and private interests.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said a finding that Mr Fox had done anything wrong in terms of breaking the ministerial code would "end his career as defence secretary and end his time in the Cabinet".

The preliminary findings are due to be examined by the prime minister on Monday.

In his statement, Mr Fox said that at no stage did he or his department provide classified information or briefings to Mr Werritty or assist with his commercial work - "let alone benefit personally from this work".

"Nevertheless, I do accept that given Mr Werritty's defence-related business interests, my frequent contacts with him may have given an impression of wrongdoing, and may also have given third parties the misleading impression that Mr Werritty was an official adviser rather than simply a friend," he said.

He added that he should have ensured that any meetings with Mr Werritty, at which defence and security related issues were raised, were properly attended by officials and recorded - "to protect myself and the government from any suggestion of wrongdoing".

Mr Fox has been under pressure in recent days after a series of revelations:

  • A video from a Sri Lankan TV broadcast shows Mr Werritty attended a meeting with the Sri Lankan president with the defence secretary, although the MoD said Mr Fox attended the meeting with Mahinda Rajapaksa in a private capacity
  • The defence secretary confirmed that Mr Werritty used to carry business cards which said he was an adviser to Mr Fox, adding that he told his friend it was "unacceptable" to carry such cards
  • An email correspondence published by the Guardian called into question Mr Fox's claim that a meeting with businessmen in Dubai had been impromptu - suggesting, rather, that Mr Werritty had been involved in planning the discussions for some time.

On the Dubai meeting, which was said to have been brokered by Mr Werritty, the defence secretary said it was "wrong to meet with a commercial supplier without the presence of an official".

"I have apologised to the prime minister and agreed with my permanent secretary to put in place new procedures to ensure that this does not happen again," he said.

He pledged to answer "all questions" in the House of Commons.

'Private matters'

The MoD has said that Mr Werritty "never has been part of Mr Fox's official travelling party when the secretary of state is abroad on official business".

Footage appearing to show Liam Fox and Adam Werritty meeting Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa

A spokesman said: "Mr Werritty's meetings with the secretary of state at the MoD have concerned entirely private matters, not to discuss MoD business.

"At no time has he had access to any classified MoD documents or information."

Labour said the matter raised questions of national security and access to highly sensitive information.

It also said the matter raised concerns over Mr Fox's integrity.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy has written to the prime minister calling for an independent investigation into the allegations, saying the current MoD inquiry is an "inadequate response".

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