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October 9, 2011 9:15 pm
Liam Fox has made a last-ditch attempt to save his political career by apologising to the prime minister for allowing his professional responsibilities as defence secretary to become blurred with his personal loyalties to a friend.
The defence secretary’s mea culpa came as David Cameron prepared to receive the preliminary results of an investigation, due today, into whether Mr Fox’s working relationship with Adam Werritty, his former flatmate and best man, had breached national security protocols.
A Whitehall official said on Sunday night: “Liam Fox is putting on a brave front and fighting very hard to prevent political oblivion. But the consensus is that its 50/50 whether he can survive.”
The crisis surrounding Mr Fox deepened on Sunday after fresh allegations emerged about Mr Werritty, who has presented himself as the defence secretary’s adviser, and attended official foreign meetings with him and visited his department 14 times in the past 16 months, despite not being a government employee.
“I accept that with the benefit of hindsight I should have taken much greater care to ensure that any meetings with Adam Werritty, at which defence and security related issues were raised, were properly attended by officials and recorded – to protect myself and the government from any suggestion of wrong-doing,” said Mr Fox in a statement.
Although his contacts with Mr Werritty might have “given an impression of wrongdoing” in the light of his friend’s defence-related business interests, neither Mr Fox nor his department had ever provided Mr Werritty with classified information or briefings to assist with his commercial work.
An aide to Mr Fox said that the defence secretary had spoken to the prime minister on Sunday and that despite the apology, Mr Fox did not know what the outcome of the interim report would be.
New evidence over the weekend appeared to cast doubt on Mr Fox’s previous denial that Mr Werritty had attended formal meetings with overseas dignitaries. The defence secretary also suggested that his meeting in Dubai with Mr Werritty and Harvey Boulter, head of Porton Group, the private equity company, was the result of a chance meeting in a restaurant.
The Observer published images that appear to show that Mr Werritty was present at a meeting between Mr Fox and the president of Sri Lanka in a London hotel last December. The Financial Times also established that Mr Werritty had been brokering the defence secretary’s private discussion in Dubai with Mr Boulter, three months before the meeting actually took place in June this year.
Mr Boulter told the FT that neither Ursula Brennan, the permanent secretary who is in charge of the investigation, nor any other Whitehall staff had contacted him about the allegations. Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, told the FT that it was “extraordinary” Mr Boulter had not heard from the permanent secretary.
“Any inquiry must involve discussions with all those involved in the many issues that have been raised in recent days,” he said.
Mr Murphy wrote to the prime minister on Sunday suggesting that the current probe had “very significant shortcomings” and should be widened to include breaches of the ministerial code.
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