Q&A: Liam Fox row
- 18 October 2011
- From the section UK Politics
A report has been published into the conduct of former defence Secretary Liam Fox, who resigned after days of pressure and questions about the access and influence of a personal friend.
What was the row about?
It emerged that Adam Werritty - a friend and former flatmate of Mr Fox who was best man at his wedding - had visited his office at the Ministry of Defence 14 times in a year-and-a-half. Mr Fox later updated that figure to 22.
He also was present on 18 overseas trips, including two family holidays and trips to Singapore, Dubai, Florida , Bahrain, Israel, Washington, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka.
Mr Werritty does not work for the government, or the Conservative Party, but had carried business cards saying he was an adviser to "the Rt Hon Liam Fox MP".
What's wrong with that?
Labour say they want to know exactly what Mr Werritty's role was at the Ministry of Defence - and why he was travelling to different countries and handing out cards describing himself as an adviser to Mr Fox.
The Times has reported that financial backers linked to Israel and a private intelligence firm helped fund Mr Werritty's travels, via a company he set up.
Labour also wants more information about whether Mr Werritty had any links in the defence industry, whether anyone had profited from "cash for access" and whether Mr Werritty ever had access to sensitive security information.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has dismissed suggestions that UK foreign policy had been undermined - following unconfirmed newspaper allegations about Mr Werritty dealing with Iranian exiles and discussing the overthrow of the Ahmadinejad regime.
The ministerial code says ministers "must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests".
Mr Fox has admitted an "impression of wrongdoing" may have been given by his frequent contacts with Mr Werritty, who had "defence-related business interests" and others may have got the wrong impression that he was an official adviser, rather than a friend.
In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Mr Fox apologised for allowing "the distinction between my personal interest and my government activities to become blurred".
What happened in Dubai?
Mr Werritty set up a meeting in Dubai in June between Mr Fox and Harvey Boulter, the head of private finance firm Porton Capital. One of its subsidiaries is Cellcrypt, which wanted to sell encrypted telephone technology to the Ministry of Defence.
It has emerged that Mr Werritty met Mr Boulter that April in Dubai, a meeting arranged by the lobbying firm Tetra, at which Mr Boulter asked for a meeting with Mr Fox to discuss Cellcrypt.
Mr Fox says nothing happened for three months, but a chance meeting between Mr Boulter and Mr Werritty at a restaurant in Dubai in June, led to an impromptu meeting being set up with the defence secretary, who was passing through en route back from Afghanistan.
Mr Fox has admitted that he should not have met Mr Boulter, a potential commercial supplier to the MoD, without an official being present. He said he notified his private office afterwards and asked them to prepare a brief on Cellcrypt.
At the meeting, a separate issue - about a US legal battle between Mr Boulter and another firm 3M, which is also in dispute with the MoD - was raised.
But Mr Fox has denied claims that the knighthood of George Buckley, chief executive of 3M, was discussed - and says the Porton Group itself had clarified this.
What other meetings did Mr Werritty attend?
Mr Fox says that the majority of his friend's 22 visits to the MoD were "short social meetings" either in his office or the "refreshment facilities".
Other people were present at just four meetings - three relating to Sri Lanka and one with the UK ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould who "was known socially to both of us".
He says Mr Werritty was "never present at regular departmental meetings" and they did "not discuss either commercial or defence matters" at the private meetings.
Mr Werritty was present at a bilateral meeting with the Sri Lankan foreign minister in 2010 - at which MoD officials were present and at a private meetings with the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa in London in the Dorchester hotel, also in 2010.
Separately he was present on 18 overseas trips, including a trip to Sri Lanka in July 2011, where Mr Fox gave a lecture. The MoD said he was "not part of Mr Fox's delegation and he did not attend any official meetings".
Mr Fox says that those 18 trips included his own annual leave and holidays with family and friends.
What does the official report conclude?
David Cameron asked Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell to examine the allegations against Mr Fox and whether he breached the Ministerial Code - which sets out standards of behaviour expected of ministers.
The report concludes Mr Fox "clearly" breached ministerial rules in discussing government business at meetings which Mr Werritty attended but at which no government officials were present.
This represented a "failure of judgement", the report states.
The report also says Mr Fox facilitated an introduction between Mr Werritty and a donor. It concludes the links between Dr Fox and Mr Werritty meant that donations given to Mr Werritty could at least be seen as giving rise to the perception of a conflict of interest.
What does Mr Fox say?
In his resignation letter, Mr Fox apologised for having "mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my government activities to become blurred".
After the report's publication, Mr Fox said he should have taken "more care" to avoid the impression that Mr Werrritty was an official adviser and also fully declared all his private interests to officials at the Ministry of Defence.
But he said he welcomed the report's conclusion he made no financial gain from his dealings with Mr Werritty and they did not threaten national security.
What happens next?
Sir Gus has made a series of recommendations tightening rules on who should accompany ministers to official meetings, which No 10 has accepted.
Labour are pressing for David Cameron to make a statement to the House of Commons on the report and are likely to table an urgent question on the issue in Parliament on Wednesday. They want details of all meetings Mr Werritty had with ministers and officials to be published.
Labour MP John Mann has written to parliamentary standards commissioner John Lyon asking him to investigate Mr Fox and has written to City of London Police asking them to investigate whether Mr Werritty used false business cards.
Ministers are expected to consult on plans for a register of lobbyists - something that was in the coalition agreement - by the end of the year. BBC News Channel chief political correspondent Norman Smith says legislation is expected early next year.