Fox survives row… for now

By Ian Dunt

Liam Fox managed to survive the storm of allegations around him today, but he still faces an inquiry into his behaviour.

The defence secretary seemed to be secure this morning when David Cameron urged patience so that "natural justice" could take place. A long debate in the Commons this afternoon saw Mr Fox emerge relatively unscathed.

A preliminary Ministry of Defence report found that "current guidance on propriety… needs to be strengthened" as a result of the row but no classified papers or briefings were handed to Adam Werritty, a close friend of Mr Fox whose relationship with the minister triggered the allegations.

However, with a two week period before the report comes in and a media pack smelling blood, new allegations could emerge to derail the defence secretary's career.

"I'm determined to avoid having artificial deadlines imposed on this and make sure we do this in a rational sensible way," Mr Cameron told reporters this morning, as he tried to buy himself time in the face of increasingly chaotic scenes in Westminster.

Facing a packed Commons chamber this afternoon, Mr Fox repeated his apology and agreed he should not have allowed his "professional and personal responsibilities" to overlap.

"I accept with the benefit of hindsight that I should have taken greater care", he told MPs.

"I accept my personal responsibility."
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy fell short of demanding Mr Fox's resignation, but accused him of breaking six separate sections of the ministerial code.

"Our forces look to him for leadership," Mr Murphy told the Commons.

"When they step out of line, when they break the rules, they take responsibility and accept the full consequences. They – and we – expect no less of the defence secretary."

Because the code bars ministers giving the "impression" of wrongdoing, Mr Fox's apology already makes clear that he has broken it, but it is up to the prime minister to decide whether he should face sanction.

That seemed unlikely today as a parade of senior ministers, including George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, made their support for the defence secretary clear.