8 Oct 2011

Fox under pressure as new claims surface

Prime Minister David Cameron has asked for an initial report on the investigation into Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s dealings with self-styled adviser Adam Werritty, to be delivered to him by Monday.

Mr Cameron has tasked Sir Gus O’Donnell, head of the civil service, with bringing him the initial findings of the inquiry, which is being carried out by Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence.

Ms Brennan originally set out a two-week timetable for producing her conclusions.

Earlier today Downing Street confirmed that it had “full confidence” in the defence secretary. But as Liam Fox continues his visit to Libya, new claims have been published about the nature of his relationship with Adam Werritty.

At a press conference in Libya, Dr Fox refused to respond to questions about Mr Werrity. “There are perfectly legitimate questions for democratic politicians,” he said. “We have already set out a mechanism by which those will be resolved in the United Kingdom.”

Mr Werrity, a close friend of Dr Fox who was best man at his wedding, has made 14 visits to the Ministry of Defence over 16 months, despite not being employed by the government.

Newspaper claims

A report in today’s Independent newspaper says Mr Werritty arranged a meeting in Dubai between the defence secretary and the Porton Group, a private equity company interested in selling technology to the MoD.

The meeting apparently focused on voice encryption technology, and took place without any MoD officials present. The Financial Times quotes Harvey Boulter, Porton Group chief executive, as saying: “I’m a bit disappointed that I was poorly briefed as to who he (Mr Werritty) was.

“He appears to be a close friend of Dr Fox and I think he has over-reached the friendship.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported that Mr Werritty ran the Atlantic Bridge, a right-wing charity, from inside the defence secretary’s parliamentary office at Portcullis House, Westminster.

Warning to Fox

The Guardian also says Mr Werritty was paid more than £90,000 between 2007 and 2010 as chief executive of the Atlantic Bridge, and that Ursula Brennan, the MoD’s most senior civil servant, warned Mr Fox to stop his friend handing out business cards embossed with a parliamentary logo and describing Mr Werritty as “adviser to the Rt Hon Dr Fox MP”.

Saturday’s edition of The Times reports that Mr Werrity carried a second business card saying he worked for the defence secretary. It says Mr Werritty handed out cards carrying the House of Commons crest and saying he worked for “the office of Dr Liam Fox MP”.

On Channel 4 News last night, Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy urged Dr Fox to disclose the nature of the business dealings with Mr Werritty, and he branded it “ridiculous” that Dr Fox had instead launch an internal inquiry into himself.

“We want specific answers to direct questions about just why one individual, who is not on the payroll of the Ministry of Defence or the House of Commons, has such a close working relationship inside the Ministry of Defence,” he said.