14 Oct 2011

Fox hounded out

Channel 4 News looks at the career of the former Defence Secretary who has resigned following days of increasing scrutiny and questions over his relationship with his friend Adam Werritty.

Dr Liam Fox leaves the house of commons (Getty)

A Eurosceptic who is thought of as the “leading neocon in the Tory party”, Dr Fox might be better connected with America’s Republican Party than David Cameron.

Perhaps work across the Atlantic might beckon now that Dr Fox’s critics have finally got their man. After over a week of sustained and increasing pressure, Dr Fox has handed in his resignation over allegations about the nature of his involvement with his self-styled adviser and friend, Adam Werritty.

His passionate belief in the “special relationship” between Britain and the US and subsequent involvement as UK director and founding member of The Atlantic Bridge was to lead to questions about his and Mr Werritty’s relationship.

Atlantic Bridge was an organisation that promoted conservative policies and its honorary patron was Margaret Thatcher, who made a now rare public appearance to attend Dr Fox’s recent 50th birthday party. It was wound up at the end of September after the Charity Commission criticised it for activities that did not further its charitable status.

Celebrity contacts

According to his commons biography, Dr Fox was born and raised in East Kilbride, Scotland. He attended the local comprehensive school, St Bride’s High School, and then went on to study medicine at the University of Glasgow.

He worked as a GP before becoming an MP. He is known as self-confessed party animal and his contacts book contains among other names, Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia (whom he used to date) and actor Ross Kemp.

But Dr Fox was also a serious politician with huge ambitions. He stood against David Cameron for the leadership of the Conservative Party and indeed in recent days showed he has retained the support of some of the MPs who backed his candidacy. One of those, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has been tipped as a possible replacement.

He had cut his political teeth in the government of John Major, holding several ministerial positions and returned to the government benches as secretary of state for defence following the 2010 general election.

But following the appearance of a story in about a US court case involving the private equity firm Porton Capital, rumours began circulating about the influence of Dr Fox’s long-term friend Adam Werritty. Initially the story was about Mr Werritty’s use of the defence secretary’s name and influence to gain access to potential donors and influential people – he styled himself “advisor to Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP” on his business cards.

But more recently, Dr Fox and Mr Werritty’s links to defence firms and lobby groups has come under scrutiny.

The latest allegation was that Dr Fox and Mr Werritty attended a fund-raising dinner in Washington along with senior defence industry figures but did not declare this – a claim that has been disputed by the Ministry of Defence.

Sri Lanka

Dr Fox’s had been deeply involved with Sri Lanka following links he made both during his time as a shadow minister and while serving as secretary of state. The Sri Lankan government, which refuses many journalists entry into the country, has one of the worst records in the world on repression of its own media, and has repeatedly prevented the UN from investigating the allegations of war crimes against it.

Under the previous Labour administration, Britains foreign policy on Sri Lankan was to support UN calls for further investigations. When, as the new Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Fox met the Sri Lankan president Mr Rajapaksa, the Foreign Secretary William Hague was reportedly furious as he seemed to be running an alternative foreign policy.

There then followed a struggle between Fox and Hague over Britain’s foreign policy in regards to Sri Lanka, the result of which was an official trip some months later by foreign minister Alastair Burt and Liam Fox.

Why does this matter? Firstly, Sri Lanka’s appalling human rights record and its refusal to account for actions at the end of the civil war have brought it international condemnation. But it wasn’t until last year that Dr Fox finally publicly called for the Sri Lankan regime to investigate the allegation of war crimes committed by Sri Lankan forces in the final months of the country’s civil war against Tamil separatists.

Secondly, and more importantly, the mounting questions over who paid for numerous trips to Sri Lanka by Dr Fox, who paid for the trips of his friend Adam Werritty and, critically, why third parties might have funded such trips, have proved incompatible with Dr Fox retaining his job.


A further story which came back to haunt the now ex-defence secretary was about a burglary which took place at his Westminster home just prior to the general election.

Initially Liam Fox said he had been alone in the flat when the theft happened but it transpired that a male guest was also staying at his residence.

In a statement following the reports in The Sun newspaper, Dr Fox said: “As I told the police at the time, a friend was staying in the guest room,” Dr Fox said:

“My wife was stranded in Hong Kong due to the ash cloud. For the sake of clarity, it wasn’t Adam Werritty.”

But it seems these clarifications and apologies – Dr Fox made a statement both in the commons and to reporters on Sunday admitting to errors of judgement and apologising for doing so – as well as the backing of David Cameron, have not saved him from the hounds of Westminster.

What next

As Dr Fox moves on to life on the back benches, the question as to who will replace him is matched in urgency by the anticipation of the results of the ongoing inquiry into his own conduct which he himself ordered.

Whether or not more allegations will surface following his resignation, no doubt the government will hope that whatever is found by outgoing Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, will mean the Fox affair can finally be laid to rest.