Wednesday 26 April 2017

British Government accused of blocking full investigation into Liam Fox

David Hughes

Labour has accused the Government of "blocking" a full investigation into Defence Secretary Liam Fox by refusing to refer the case to ministerial watchdog Sir Philip Mawer.

Deputy leader Harriet Harman claimed the Government was "prepared to sacrifice high standards" to protect Dr Fox over his links with Adam Werritty.



Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell was investigating the issue and added that Dr Fox had "apologised and admitted something was amiss".



Answering questions in the Commons, Mr Clegg said it was important to respect "high standards of due process and fair play" in carrying out the investigation.



Dr Fox's friend Mr Werritty was interviewed today by officials looking into allegations surrounding his links with the Defence Secretary.



Sources close to the inquiry said that a conversation between Mr Werritty and Cabinet Office officials took place today at an undisclosed location away from Whitehall.



Dr Fox has apologised to Parliament for allowing lines between his personal and ministerial life to become "blurred" after it emerged that he met Mr Werritty 40 times over the past 18 months in the Ministry of Defence and during visits abroad.



In the Commons, Ms Harman questioned why the Cabinet Secretary, the country's most senior civil servant, was in charge of the investigation rather than Sir Philip, the independent adviser on ministers' interests.



She told Mr Clegg: "You have always lectured us on high standards in public office, but while the Defence Secretary by his own admission has fallen short of those standards the Government has failed to refer him to the independent adviser on ministers' interests Sir Philip Mawer.



"Doesn't this show that they are prepared to sacrifice high standards in public office to protect the Secretary of State?"



Mr Clegg told her: "I'm sure you would agree with me it is also important to respect high standards of due process and fair play.



"The Cabinet Secretary is looking in to this, as requested by you and your party until you changed your tune just a day or two ago.



"He is doing that report and until we have got that report, and until that report has been delivered to the Prime Minister, I think there's no point trying to provide a running commentary on a series of facts which aren't yet revealed in that report."



Ms Harman said it was "not the job of the Cabinet Secretary or other officials" to enforce the ministerial code of conduct.



She said: "The Prime Minister has admitted the Defence Secretary has made serious mistakes and there is clearly a need for investigation, not least in to whether Mr Werritty profited by his association with the Secretary of State.



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



Mr Clegg replied: "Has the Secretary of State apologised and admitted that something was amiss? Yes he has.



"Secondly, has the Prime Minister made clear this is something he takes very seriously? Yes.



"Thirdly, is it being properly investigated? Yes it is."



He added: "Let's allow the Cabinet Secretary to do the work that he has been asked to do so that the full facts can be made available to the Prime Minister and then decisions can be made."



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