Monday 18 December 2017

Beleaguered Hunt could give up post after Games finish

Patrick Hennessy in London

Jeremy Hunt, the beleaguered British culture secretary who will be questioned at the Leveson Inquiry this week, may step down voluntarily from his cabinet post after the Olympic Games, according to senior government sources.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is preparing contingency plans for a decision by Mr Hunt, who has faced serious criticism over his role overseeing the bid by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for BSkyB, to take some time out from the front line in the autumn.

Such a move by Mr Hunt would force a government reshuffle and require a new secretary of state at the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) which is said to be gripped by paralysis because of its central role at Lord Leveson's inquiry into media standards.

"The DCMS is in a state of suspended animation at the moment," a senior government source told 'The Sunday Telegraph'.

"I think Jeremy could well decide to take some time out after the end of the Games.

"There would be a great deal of sympathy for him if he did this."

Sources close to Mr Hunt insisted last night that such claims were "not right" and that he was fighting on ahead of his appearance before Lord Leveson on Thursday.

Downing Street, meanwhile, made it clear that the culture secretary still had Mr Cameron's full support.

The prime minister has stated he "does not regret" giving the job of overseeing the BSkyB bid to Mr Hunt and that he believes the minister acted "properly" throughout.

Nevertheless, it was clear yesterday that many of Mr Hunt's colleagues do not believe he will remain in his post for long after the Olympic Games finish.

Mr Cameron could find it awkward if he were to go before then -- because without him in the key post, questions over the government's relations with the Murdoch empire would focus more narrowly on the prime minister.

Many MPs from all sides -- including Conservative ministers -- believe Mr Hunt is playing a key role as Mr Cameron's "human shield".

One Tory MP said: "It is very much in David's interests for Jeremy to stay on while the Leveson process continues to home in on the BSkyB bid. Once it has stopped doing so, things will look different."

Pressure

Mr Hunt and Mr Cameron were under fresh pressure this weekend after the Leveson Inquiry published a series of text messages and emails linked to the appearance at the inquiry of Adam Smith, Mr Hunt's former special adviser, who resigned last month over his extensive contacts with Fred Michel, the News Corp lobbyist.

In the most serious revelation, it emerged that Mr Cameron was warned by a senior government lawyer about taking the decision, in December 2010, to replace Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary, with Mr Hunt as the minister responsible for overseeing the BSkyB bid. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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