Liam Fox row 'distracting MoD staff', Tory MP says
- 11 October 2011
- From the section UK Politics
The row over Liam Fox has "distracted" the Ministry of Defence and is making it "very difficult" for staff to get on with their jobs, a Tory MP has said.
Former Army officer Patrick Mercer told BBC Radio 4 a meeting he had been due to attend at the MoD was cancelled on Monday amid "the fuss and the dramas".
Senior civil servants investigating the defence secretary's conduct have interviewed his friend Adam Werritty.
They were expected to ask him why he has joined Mr Fox on 18 overseas trips.
Number 10 has said serious mistakes were made and asked an internal inquiry to address "all remaining questions".
Mr Cameron is understood to have discussed the findings of an interim report on the inquiry with Mr Fox, but is not expected to make a final decision on his future until he sees the full report, which is due on 21 October.
According to MoD records, Mr Werritty joined Mr Fox on a third of his overseas visits - 18 out of 48 - since he came to office in May 2010.
They included visits to Singapore, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Hong Kong, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Qatar and Sri Lanka.
Mr Werritty also visited Tampa in Florida, where he dined with General John Allen, who has since become the head of Nato forces in Afghanistan.
In statement to MPs on Monday, Mr Fox apologised for allowing a "blurring" of his personal relationships and his professional life, but insisted he had done nothing materially wrong and had not put national security at risk.
But a businessman, Harvey Boulter, who was introduced to Mr Fox by Mr Werritty, has accused the defence secretary of telling a "half-truth" to the Commons about their meeting.
Mr Boulter told the BBC his meeting with Mr Fox was "pre-planned" and "pre-organised" and it was "nonsense" to suggest it had come about "accidentally" after he and Mr Werritty found themselves dining at nearby tables in a Dubai restaurant.
The defence secretary has dismissed Mr Boulter's account, describing him in the Commons as "a very poor witness and lacking in credibility".
Mr Mercer told BBC Radio 4's World at One the defence secretary was running a department "under serious financial strictures" and fighting military campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya.
"The last thing that busy civil servants and busy uniformed staff need inside the MoD is this sort of distraction with their boss," he said.
The MP said Mr Fox retained the support of his Conservative colleagues, but he added: "I was due to have a meeting in the Ministry of Defence on Monday, and it was clear that the fuss and the difficulty and the drama was making business very difficult to conduct."
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".
But he had no formal or paid role at the MoD or the Conservative Party and little is known about how the visits were funded.
The Times has claimed Mr Werritty declared about £20,000 in income from his private companies over the past four years.
In Parliament, Mr Fox said Mr Werritty's income was "not dependent on any transactional behaviour to maintain his income".
The BBC's deputy political editor James Landale said government sources had indicated that Mr Werritty had agreed to meet officials at a location outside London on Tuesday.
They said this was intended to be an initial conversation between the investigation team and Mr Werritty in order to help answer some outstanding questions.
'Heart of trust'
Meanwhile, Labour has been stepping up the pressure on Mr Fox over the affair.
MP John Mann has asked the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate allegations that the defence secretary allowed Mr Werritty to live rent-free and run a business from his expenses-funded property.
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman demanded to know why the investigation into Mr Fox's conduct was not being carried out by the independent adviser on ministerial standards, Sir Philip Mawer.
Speaking at deputy prime minister's questions in the Commons she said the Ministerial Code of Conduct made clear it was not the role of senior civil servants, led by the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, to enforce the code.
"Doesn't this show that they are prepared to sacrifice high standards in public office to protect the Secretary of State?" she said.
"There is clearly a need for investigation, not least into whether Mr Werritty profited by his association with the Secretary of State. This goes to the heart of trust in government."
But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Sir Gus should be allowed to complete his work "so that the full facts can be made available to the prime minister and then decisions can be made".