By DAVID WOODING
LIAM Fox is fighting for his political life after being accused of lying about his “murky” relationship with a man who falsely claimed to be his adviser.
The embattled Defence Secretary was under mounting pressure as the Prime Minister ordered a probe into the role of Adam Werritty – the minister’s former flatmate and Best man at his wedding.
He has also ordered Whitehall's top civil servant Sir Gus O'Donnell to probe whether he presented a risk to national security and wants a full file on his desk by tomorrow morning. Mr Werritty, 34, has accompanied Dr Fox on at least one foreign trip - which the Cabinet minister had at first denied - despite having no role in government. He has visited the MoD 14 times in the past 18 months and handed out business cards bearing the House of Commons logo and describing himself as the minister's "adviser". He also ran a Right-wing charity from his Commons office.
But the row has deepened as fresh evidence emerges which flies in the face of the minister’s explanation. Dr Fox, 50, claimed his pal had never met any foreign dignitaries. But TV and film evidence clearly show them both shaking hands with the president of Sri Lanka in a London hotel last year.
Dr Fox also ran into trouble after he dismissed talks with a defence equipment dealer in a Dubai hotel last June as a “chance” meeting.
Emails between Mr Werritty and the businessman surfaced which show the minister’s friend had been trying to fix up a get-together since April.
Now a senior Labour MP has told how Dr Fox had given him a personal assurance that the Dubai meeting was all above board and a senior civil servant was present.
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy was stunned to learn it was brokered and attended by Mr Werritty and no MoD officials were present. He said: “Alarm bells should be ringing in Downing Street.”
Mr Murphy told Sky News: “That’s very worrying indeed and this is becoming an increasingly murky situation and we can’t go on like this, with a daily drip-feed of fresh allegations just piling upon the Secretary of State’s head. And we can’t have Downing Street dithering on this – we need a full forensic inquiry.”
The row presents a tough dilemma for the Prime Minister who is desperate to snuff out the row quickly.
Mr Cameron knows that to keep him in his job risks making him look weak – and could lead to a damaging drip-drip of further negative stories.
But to sack him is fraught with political danger because Dr Fox on the back benches could become a rallying point for the disaffected Right-wing of the Tory party, fed up with concessions given to the Lib Dem coalition partners.
Downing Street insists the PM is “fully supportive” of Dr Fox and “genuinely doesn’t want to lose him”.
Former PM John Major, who dealt with sleaze on an almost daily basis in the 1990s, said Mr Cameron risks looking indecisive if he doesn’t act quickly. He told the BBC: “He has to balance natural justice and the truth, rather than gossip and rumour.”
Dr Fox will be called before the Commons to answer questions about his relationship tomorrow. But he has told the Sunday Telegraph: “I have absolutely no fear of complete transparency in these matters. I think there are underlying issues behind these claims and the motivation is deeply suspect.”
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