Fox committed ‘clear breach’ of ministerial code, report finds
By Ian Dunt and Ruth McKee
Liam Fox committed a clear breach of the ministerial code, the Cabinet secretary's report has concluded.
Sir Gus O'Donnell's assessment of Mr Fox's dealings with close friend Adam Werritty found the defence secretary "did not live up to the standards" expected of Cabinet ministers.
While admitting Mr Fox did not benefit financially from the situation, it found the former defence secretary had allowed an "inappropriate blurring of lines between official and personal relationships".
It concluded that Mr Werritty should not have been given access to Mr Fox's diary and itinerary or allowed to participate in social events which could have given the impression he was part of the official entourage.
Sir Gus pointed out that Mr Fox's private office and private secretary both raised alarm at the relationship with Mr Werritty, but the defence secretary continued the relationship.
"This may have been a reasonable judgement had the contacts been minimal and purely personal and had not involved Mr Werritty's frequent attendance at meetings in the MoD [Ministry of Defence] main building and on overseas visits," the report concluded.
"The damage arose because the frequency, range and extent of these contacts were not regulated as well as they should have been and this was exacerbated by the fact that Dr Fox did not make his department aware of all the various contacts."
Mr Fox expressed relief at its findings.
"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," he said.
"As I said in the House of Commons last week, I accept that it was a mistake to allow the distinctions between government and private roles to become blurred, and I must take my share of the responsibility for this."
Sir Gus' report suggests that "a more rigorous approach" to non-official relationships is adopted at the Cabinet Office level.
Any discussions with external organisations which raise "substantive issues relating to departmental decisions" should be raised by the secretary of state, according to the recommendations.
Departments should ensure there is no confusion over who is with the official team during ministerial visits and official should accompany ministers too any meeting where official matters might be raised, it continued.
Downing Street said the prime minister accepted the recommendations.
"This government has already introduced changes that significantly increase government transparency – publishing lists of meetings with external organisations and all procurement over £500," No 10 said.
Earlier in the day, Downing Street refused to publish a full list of Mr Werritty's meetings with ministers, although it did reveal that he met Gerald Howarth and Lord Astor – both defence ministers.
The Cabinet secretary was charged with investigating the business relationship between the friends after it emerged Mr Werritty had been claiming he was an adviser to the ex-defence secretary.
His trips accompanying his old friend were actually financed by right-wing pressure groups.
Mr Fox resigned on Friday after a slew of revelations concerning the close business connections between Mr Fox, Mr Werrity, and the shadowy charity Atlantic Bridge.
The body was shut down by the Charity Commission when it was found their principle activity was political lobbying rather than charitable work.
Mr Werritty's expenses on overseas trips were financed by Pargav, a non-profit company which focused on security policy analysis, and was funded by wealthy Tory donors, including a pro-Israeli lobby-group.
Mr Fox met Mr Werritty at the MoD in Whitehall 22 times in the last 16 months. He also accompanied him on 18 overseas business trips where the pair met with defence ministers, heads of state and ambassadors, many of whom have since claimed they believed Mr Werritty to be an official aide to Mr Fox, rather than an independent business man representing special interests.