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.

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Liam Fox survives Best Man storm…for now

By DAVID WOODING

LIAM Fox gave his stalkers the slip today – but he’s not out of the woods yet.

The Defence Secretary left a string of questions unanswered in a statement to MPs about his relationship with his Best Man.

Dr Fox (pictured left) revealed close chum Adam Werritty had linked up with him 40 times on overseas trips and at the MoD – but pledged it won’t happen again.

He admitted it had been a mistake to allow the lines between professional duties and personal loyalties to become “blurred”.

But he failed to explain why he apparently ignored warnings from military top brass over his “improper” dealings with 34-year-old Mr Werritty.

Nor did he reveal whether his former rent-free flatmate made any financial gain from acting as a self-styled unofficial adviser.

Dr Fox now faces an extended inquiry by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, which will report within a fortnight.

But the pressure will continue to mount in the days ahead as Labour turns up the heat. They are likely to focus on a controversial meeting Dr Fox and his pal had with a military equipment salesman in Dubai last June.

Arrogance

Labour accused Dr Fox of “driving a coach and horses through the ministerial code” – and identified at least six breaches.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: “We may never know what got the Secretary of State into this mess – arrogance, naivety or hubris.

“This whole crisis is self-inflicted. There have been daily revelations, which barely 36 hours ago he described as baseless. But yesterday he was forced into a partial and belated apology.”

Premier David Cameron said he will not make a final decision on the minister’s future until he has seen the full report on the case. He is no doubt hoping the storm will blow over by then – but if it gets worse he risks looking indecisive.

In his Commons statement, Dr Fox admitted Mr Werritty – who is not a government official and had no security clearance – had accompanied him on foreign trips and been inside the MoD on numerous occasions.

He met him 18 times  on overseas trips and on 22 occasions at the Ministry of Defence in the past 16 months.

Dr Fox insisted his pal received no payment for fixing and attending a controversial meeting with a defence equipment trader inDubaiin June.

But he confirmed he was paid £5,800 for research work while he was his intern

He told MPs: “Mr Werritty was never present at regular departmental meetings. During private meetings we did not discuss either commercial or defence matters.

“He had no access to classified documents, nor was he briefed on classified matters.”

Dr Fox added: “I accept, with the benefit of hindsight, I should have taken great care to ensure a more transparent separation of government, party political and private business and to ensure that meetings were properly recorded to protect myself and government from any suggestion of wrong doing.”

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Liam Fox: His Best Man, the hotel meetings and those emails

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.

Liam Fox (left) and Adam Werritty

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.

Cameron’s dilemma

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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