UK Politics

Labour heaps pressure on Liam Fox over 'murky business'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionFootage appearing to show Liam Fox and Adam Werritty meeting Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa

Labour has described details of Defence Secretary Liam Fox's working relationship with his former flatmate and best man as a "murky business".

Mr Fox was joined at meetings by his friend Adam Werritty, who is not employed by the Ministry of Defence nor has national security clearance.

Emails and video footage have emerged appearing to contradict Mr Fox's explanation of the meetings.

Prime Minister David Cameron has demanded answers on Monday.

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

On Monday the preliminary findings are due to be examined by Mr Cameron.

A video has emerged which shows Mr Werritty, who has no official role, attended a meeting with the Sri Lankan president with the defence secretary.

And emails suggest a meeting with Dubai businessmen was not a chance encounter, as he had claimed.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy called on Mr Fox to make a statement in Parliament, and, along with shadow chancellor Ed Balls, described the situation as a "murky business".

Mr Murphy said: "There's questions about the ministerial code and whether it has been breached, about the professional relationship between Liam Fox and the former best man at his wedding, and a very murky business about links and access to information, that I think is very unsettling."

He has written to the prime minister calling for an independent investigation into the allegations, and claiming the current MoD inquiry is an "inadequate response".

The letter goes on to state: "It is important that the breadth of this inquiry matches the severity of the accusations."

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman said: "It's not just the questions of national security and access to highly sensitive information, it's also the issues of probity and procurement.

"There's now a further question about Mr Fox's integrity."

Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister Chris Huhne said Mr Fox should be regarded as innocent until proven guilty.

Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski, who supported Mr Fox in his bid to become Tory leader in 2005, said he thought the defence secretary could survive in the Cabinet.

"He is a very hard working MP and secretary of state and he is someone who I have found to be an honourable and decent man, and so I am very disappointed about the whirlwind that the media and others are looking at in obviously making it very difficult for him at the moment," he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend.

The MoD investigation will examine whether he broke the ministerial code over his working relationship with Mr Werritty, 34, who was best man at Mr Fox's 2005 wedding, by giving him 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.

The video - from a Sri Lankan TV broadcast - appear to show Mr Werritty at a meeting Mr Fox had with Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa in a London hotel last year. The MoD said Mr Fox attended in a private capacity.

The video footage adds to the pressure Mr Fox has been under over revelations that Mr Werritty made regular visits to see him at the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Werritty is also said to have brokered a meeting with businessmen in Dubai as Mr Fox was returning from a visit to British troops in Afghanistan in June.

Mr Fox has previously said in a parliamentary answer: "Mr Werritty is not an employee of the MoD and has, therefore, not travelled with me on any official visit."

At the meeting the defence secretary and the businessmen reportedly discussed technology that allows service personnel to make encrypted phone calls.

Mr Fox had said defence industry representatives had asked for the meeting in Dubai "when they happened to be sitting at a nearby table in a restaurant".

On Saturday, email correspondence published by the Guardian appeared to call into question Mr Fox's explanation it had been an impromptu meeting, rather suggesting Mr Werrity had been involved in planning the discussions for some time.

One from Harvey Boulter, chief executive of private equity company Porton Group, invited Mr Werritty and his "boss" to his home.

Mr Boulter told the Guardian: "The fact that a meeting was going to happen was pre-arranged in April.

"A meeting with the MoD doesn't happen by chance. I'm sure I wouldn't have just got to meet him (Mr Fox) unless I'd been pre-briefed."

Mr Werritty also used to carry business cards which said he was an adviser to Mr Fox, despite having no official capacity within the MoD or the Conservative Party.

Mr Fox has responded to the controversy by saying he has "absolutely no fear of complete transparency in these matters".

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionLiam Fox explained during a visit to Libya how the Dubai meeting arose

He told the Sunday Telegraph: "I think there are underlying issues behind these claims and the motivation is deeply suspect."

But Mr Murphy said there were issues about whether Mr Werritty had access to privileged information, adding: "There's a series of allegations here and we need full answers."

And Ms Harman urged the prime minister to deal with the matter promptly and make a statement on Monday: "People expect the secretary of state to tell the truth, that's the absolute bottom line."

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

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."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites