Defence Secretary Liam Fox 'made serious mistakes'

 

Liam Fox gives details of Mr Werritty's visits and meetings in the past 16 months

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Serious mistakes were made by Defence Secretary Liam Fox in his working relationship with friend Adam Werritty, Downing Street has said.

Mr Fox apologised to MPs for the controversy, insisting that at no time was national security put at risk.

In a statement, he said he met the businessman 22 times - more than previously stated - at the Ministry of Defence and 18 times on foreign trips.

He told the Commons these meetings and trips with Mr Werritty would now end.

Mr Werritty, 34, was Mr Fox's best man in 2005 and a former flatmate and also used to carry cards describing himself as an adviser to "the Rt Hon Liam Fox MP".

He also brokered meetings for Mr Fox and accompanied him on foreign trips, apparently holding meetings without civil servants present.

In total, Mr Werritty spent time with the defence secretary on more a third of his overseas visits - 18 out of 48 - since he came to office in May 2010.

Mr Fox, who denies wrongdoing, set up a Ministry of Defence inquiry into his conduct on Friday. He said on Monday Mr Werritty would give evidence to the inquiry soon.

Prime Minister David Cameron has discussed the findings of an interim report on the inquiry with Mr Fox, a Downing Street spokesman said following the defence secretary's statement.

David Cameron: Liam Fox does "excellent job"

The spokesman said: "It is clear, as Liam Fox himself said yesterday, that serious mistakes were made in allowing the distinction between professional responsibilities and personal loyalties to be blurred - and this has clearly raised concerns about impropriety and potential conflicts of interest."

He said that while the initial conclusion was that no classified or other defence-related official information was discussed with, or given to, Mr Werritty, it was clear "much tighter procedures" were needed in the department to make sure the Ministerial Code was adhered to.

The prime minister is not expected to make a final decision on Mr Fox's future until he sees the full report due on 21 October.

'Sorry'

In his statement to the Commons, Mr Fox revealed Mr Werritty, who he met in 1998, had initially worked as a paid intern in his office and later carried out research work, earning a total of £5,800.

Beyond that, he said there had never been a payment from the government.

He also detailed the meetings involving Mr Werritty that had taken place in Dubai and Sri Lanka.

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 is the interim report on Mr Fox and the nature of the media coverage.

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

He told MPs: "I accept that it was a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and my personal loyalties to a friend and, Mr Speaker, I am sorry for this.

"I have apologised to the prime minister, to the public and at the first opportunity available, to the House."

He added: "Mr Werritty was never present at regular departmental meetings, during private meetings we did not discuss either commercial or defence matters.

"He had no access to classified documents, nor was he briefed on classified matters."

But he added: "I accept, with the benefit of hindsight I should have taken greater care to ensure a more transparent separation of government, party political and private business and that meetings were properly recorded to protect myself and government from any suggestion of wrongdoing.

"Again, I accept my personal responsibility for this."

Mr Fox said Mr Werritty would make no more private visits to the MoD, would not attend international conferences where he was present and they would not meet socially abroad when Mr Fox was on official business.

Other details to emerge during Mr Fox's Commons appearance include:

  • A meeting last June in Dubai with Harry Boulter, chief executive of the Porton Capital investment fund, came about after Mr Werritty dined at a nearby table and suggested a meeting with Mr Fox who was on his way home from visiting forces in Afghanistan
  • An "unofficial" visit took place with Sri Lanka's president in December 2010 at London's Dorchester Hotel
  • Among the 18 meetings abroad with Mr Werritty were skiing holidays, weekends away with his wife, conference speaking where Mr Werritty was a delegate and defence-only business

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said it was clear the defence secretary had "drawn a coach and horses" through the ministerial code rules.

He said "we may never know whether it was arrogance, naivety or hubris which led Mr Fox to this", but the British people expected the highest standards of conduct.

Speaking earlier, the prime minister said Mr Fox had been "a very effective defence secretary", but it was right that an investigation was being carried out.

"I'm sure that we can answer these questions and come through all of this," he said.

"One can't rush these things... there are important elements of natural justice you have to show as prime minister. You've got to give people the time to answer questions, to unearth the information necessary to do that.

"One can't run these things to some sort of pre-ordained media timetable."

 

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  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 189.

    @173 - Unless it’s on a ‘need to know’ basis, am saying nowt.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 188.

    I though the Tories all support Fox hunting - they should be enjoying this.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 187.

    so it became a little blurred, i think not, it became your mate arranging meetings with business men in foreign countries who wanted to sell defence products, a meeting with the defence secretary would be helpful, a company might wish to reward the arranger ? do you think he gave them one of his introduction cards ? it is a joke how fox has the brass neck to still be there is an insult.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 186.

    171.IndaUK
    "I've just asked my boss if it's OK to bring my mate to work tomorrow.

    I know where I stand."

    Wow, sounds like you work somewhere fun. I asked my boss the other month if I could show a mate around our datacentre, he said by all means - on your head if he does anything.

    I, too, know where I stand.

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 185.

    This story stinks to high heavens (or low Tories) whatever the source of it.
    To have reached this position in public life and not be fully aware of the impossibility of such cosiness with an unelected individual while in service beggars belief.
    If Liam Fox was unfazed by the situation then he is inept and a fool.
    If not, then he is corrupt.
    The question remains as to the integrity

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 184.

    @161 smartignoramus

    Indeed he is answering questions in the commons but it`s the prime minister who decides whether Fox stays or goes and THAT is what should be decided by parliament and not Cameron. Had Coulson not resigned i`m sure he`d still be employed by the conservative party. And politics is an old boys club which all political partys are members make no mistake.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 183.

    If tax-payers money & sensitive matters have been secreted to a man purported to be an 'adviser' & thus in a government role when merely a friend of an MP, it's a serious matter & huge breach of trust by Liam Fox. If found to be the case he needs to resign promptly.
    As a nurse I'd never dream of taking taking my mates to work; why do MPs think they are above all rules & codes of conduct?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 182.

    @152 – Your knowledge on the matter of such security is only matched by that of Fox’s. Nil.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 181.

    160.bjorntoulouse
    So what's the point vetting employees if any tom dick or harry's allowed to walk in with a fake business card ?

    "Hi security, I'm expecting a visitor - xxxx xxxxxxx - this morning, could you let me know when they arrive". Much like I do when I go to client sites which make the security at the MOD look like a nightclub. I don't have client ID, just proof of who I am.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 180.

    50.CNHedley

    4 Minutes ago

    ". . . the mind boggles! Carla Bruni is shortly to give birth to the first legitimate child born to a sitting President of France. . . and yet our press think that being accompanied by close friend is a huge scandal"

    So you're more interested in some pregnant French woman with zero power than a story about the UK's defense? The mind certainly does boggle!!!!!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 179.

    @160 - the business card is not a fake... its the information printed on it!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 178.

    So Liam Fox’s best friend, best man and former flat mate who has a business interest in defence contracts turns up or arranges meetings at home and abroad with Mr Fox. Now Mr Fox has only allowed the truth to emerge in an ‘on-demand’ way because he could not cover it up any longer.
    The slippery Mr Fox should go and go now.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 177.

    In the business world it would be unthinkable to bring an outsider, friend or otherwise, into a meeting, without the prior agreement of the participants folowing a detailed explanation of who that person was, their status, the purpose of their participation etc. as well as being required to sign a confidentiality statement. Surely even stricter rules apply in the MoD? Liam Fox must surely go.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 176.

    @163 – oh all right then :)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 175.

    If he goes looks like the MOD have got what they wanted.

    After he did say they're over staffed

  • rate this
    -12

    Comment number 174.

    158. WolvesWill

    Its not Ms Bruni's confinement that is of interest. . . its that the French don't regard politicians personal life and indiscretions to be of any relevance, yet we worry about being visited by a close friend at our place of work

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 173.

    159.Susan
    @138 – No mate, I’m not an Ossie. Anyone who’s gone through a PV will know why I used the word ‘endure’.

    When did you do this then? As I went through 'Developed Vetting' a few years ago, which I believe has been the standard practise for over 15 years now...

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 172.

    wonder who fox asked for advice over the week end?

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 171.

    I've just asked my boss if it's OK to bring my mate to work tomorrow. He asked if my mate was skilled in finance and I told him my mate is a carpet fitter and he massages his VAT from time to time.

    Strangely, my boss said no. His exact words were "If you bring your mate to work tomorrow, you may as well go to work with your mate from Wednesday onwards"

    I know where I stand.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 170.

    If Fox survives I did not vote for what I believed I was voting for and Im afraid I find myself thinking that almost daily at the moment. I voted for Cameron because he said he'd have no truck with things like this. He also never mentioned things like 'curing' the disabled via legislation or taking OAPs travel discounts away etc. Im losing faith Dave and Im not on my own,sort it out,sack Fox.

 

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