Labour hunts wounded Fox

On the way out? Fox survived yesterday but his career still hangs in the balance.
On the way out? Fox survived yesterday but his career still hangs in the balance.

By Ian Dunt

Labour turned up the heat on Liam Fox today, as the row over his friendship with Adam Werritty refused to die down.

Harriet Harman used deputy prime minister's questions to demand that Sir Philip Mawer, independent advisor on ministerial standards, be handed the investigation on the defence secretary.

The government "is prepared to sacrifice high standard in public office to protect the secretary of state", Ms Harman told the Commons.


Nick Clegg said the ongoing investigation by Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell was a suitable vehicle to establish the extent to which Mr Fox had breached the ministerial code.

"It's also import to protect natural justice and fair play," Mr Clegg said.

"Until we've got that report there's no point providing a running commentary."

Ms Harman told the deputy prime minister his answer was "not good enough" and that the ministerial code of conduct says it is not the role of the Cabinet secretary to enforce it.

"There is clearly a need for investigation," she continued.

"Why are they blocking the proper investigation? This goes to the heart of trust in government."

Former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, Sir Alistair Graham, also demanded Sir Philip be handed the investigation today.

Elsewhere in Westminster, civil servants interviewed Mr Werritty, who was revealed to have attended 18 of Mr Fox's 48 overseas trips as defence secretary.

Senior Conservatives have made it clear they expect the prime minister to support Mr Fox, but Fleet Street turned decisively against the defence secretary overnight.

The Independent and the Financial Times argued that Mr Fox should step down while the Daily Mail said "his reputation will never fully recover".

Labour MP John Mann broke Labour ranks to demand the defence secretary's resignation.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy yesterday outlined at least six breaches of the ministerial code but stopped short of demanding that Mr Fox step down.

Even Tory MP Patrick Mercer raised doubts about Mr Fox's ability to do his job as the row continued.

"The secretary of state for defence is running a ministry which is under serious financial strictures, but much more importantly is fighting certainly one hot war in Afghanistan/Pakistan, the remains of a campaign in Libya and with all sorts of difficulties and problems and further campaigns and involvement on the horizon," he told the World at One.

"The last thing that busy civil servants need and busy uniformed staff inside the Ministry of Defence is this sort of distraction with their boss."

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) released information about Mr Fox's relationship with Mr Werritty yesterday, showing the defence secretary's best man travelled with him to Singapore, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Hong Kong, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Qatar and Sri Lanka.

Mr Fox also met Mr Werritty 22 times in the main MoD building.

The final report on Mr Fox's conduct is due on October 21st.
 

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