Liam Fox faces lengthy Cabinet exile after damning report

By DAVID WOODING

LIAM Fox’s hopes of a swift Cabinet comeback have been dealt a heavy blow by an official report into his relationship with his Best Man.

A top-level probe delivered a damning verdict on his conduct – finding him guilty of multiple breaches of the ministerial code.

Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell’s inquiry found Dr Fox ignored warnings from senior officials about his friendship with ex-flatmate Adam Werritty.

He concludes the minister put his own security at risk – and that of senior military aides – by giving his chum access to his diary.

Ignored warnings: Liam Fox

Dr Fox, 50, quit on Friday after admitting a “blurring” of lines between his professional life and personal loyalty to a friend.

Mr Werritty posed as an unofficial adviser, handing out businesss cards and accompanying the minister on 18 overseas trips in 16 months, despite having no MoD clearance.

But today’s report failed to quell demands for answers to a welter of questions about 34-year-old Mr Werritty’s role.

In his report Sir Gus said: “Dr Fox’s actions clearly constitute a breach of the ministerial code which Dr Fox has already acknowledged.

“This was a failure of judgment on his part for which he has taken the ultimate responsibility in resigning office.”

Sir Gus clears him of making any money out of the friendship or putting national security at risk but ruled:

–         Dr Fox’s behaviour fell short of the standards of conduct required by the ministerial code.

–         His close links with Mr Werritty, particularly the use of business cards, gave the false impression he represented the British government.

–         The minister had kept MoD officials at bay for two pre-arranged meetings attended by his pal.

He recommended tightening of the rules governing links between ministers and civil servants.

Dr Fox, who will make a Commons statement tomorrow, said: “I am pleased that the report makes clear that the two most serious allegations, namely of any financial gain sought, expected or received by myself and any breach of national security, have no basis.”

But it is unlikely that falling on his sword will kill off the controversy, with Labour still demanding further disclosures.

Murky

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said the report only “scratches the surface” of the potential breaches.

He declared: “A ten-page report into 18 months of wrongdoing is a superficial and narrow way for the government to deal with such a deep problem.

“This is a murky business and it has not yet been resolved. Liam Fox apologized in the House of Commons last week, but we still do not know the full truth.”

In the past, talented ministers have returned to government after serving a period of penance on the back benches.

With this row likely to run and run,  Dr Fox could be forced to wait quite some time.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

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