The dodgy relationship between Britain’s defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox, and his friend Adam Werrity has been entertaining the media and public here for the last several days.
Werrity, a onetime flat-mate of Fox’s and best man at his wedding, has been traipsing around the world after the defense secretary, popping up “by amazing coincidence” in the same cities and organizing and appearing at meetings where Fox discussed state business. And he turned up at Fox’s London office so many times that tongues began to wag.
Werrity falsely claimed to be an adviser to the defense secretary and even handed out business cards inscribed with that title.
Fox has now admitted meeting his bosom-buddy on 18 overseas visits and in 22 get-togethers at the Ministry of Defence HQ – altogether 40 times in the 16 months Fox has been in office, even though Werritty has no security clearance and no official position.
Craig Murray, our former ambassador to Uzbekistan sacked for daring to speak out against torture and other human rights abuses, had this to say…
I had presumed that Fox’s “ex-flatmate” Adam Werritty was of his own age, a flatmate from students days or impecunious early employment. I also presumed that Werritty had been Fox’s best man back in a similar period. I am surprised to find that the 40 year old Fox picked up the 24 year old Werritty at a meeting in Edinburgh Unversity only ten years ago, shortly after that Werritty moved into his flat, and after they had known each other just four years, Werrity was apparently Liam’s closest buddy on earth and became his best man.
Fox accommodated Werritty in taxpayer funded accommodation and around the best man period was funding him on his MPs expenses – before the “Atlantic Bridge” fake charity wheeze. Fox was found by the expenses scandal investigation to have “overclaimed” over £20,000 in mortgage payments and was forced to pay it back. It is unclear why Fox was not prosecuted. He also charged mobile phone bills of over £17,000 to the taxpayer. There must now be an investigation of how many of those calls were to Adam Werritty.
The fact that when Liam Fox was shadow health secretary, Werritty ran a health consultancy, and when Fox became defence secretary, Werritty became a defence consultant, tells you all that you need to know about this relationship.
Is this what passes for “the highest standards of propriety”?
The Prime Minister has foolishly declared “full confidence” in Liam Fox and was echoed by Conservative MPs, who closed ranks around their colleague and dutifully spouted the same drivel. But in the foreword to the Ministerial Code, issued in May 2010, David Cameron wrote: “In everything we do – the policies we develop and how we implement them, the speeches we give, the meetings we hold – we must remember that we are not masters but servants. Though the British people have been disappointed in their politicians, they still expect the highest standards of conduct. We must not let them down.”
The Code’s first words – its General Principles – make it clear that “Ministers of the Crown are expected to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety… Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”.
On overseas visits the Code says ministers “should be satisfied that their arrangements could be defended in public”. Furthermore the relevant Permanent Secretary’s approval must be obtained before a special adviser accompanies a minister overseas.
One of the great mysteries is why Fox’s senior civil servants didn’t say: “Who is this guy, what’s he doing hanging around here, get rid of him.”
In the event of an allegation about a breach of the Code and the Prime Minister, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary feels that it warrants further investigation, he will refer the matter to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests (Sir Philip Mawer). Enforcement “is not the role of the Cabinet Secretary”.
So why is the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, heading enquiries? Did the PM actually stop to read what he was writing a foreword to?
The Ministerial Code also spells out the Seven Principles of Public Life, including the one about Integrity… “Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.”
When he was Shadow Defense Secretary, Fox was proudly quoted on the Conservative Friends of Israel website saying: “…We must remember that in the battle for the values that we stand for, for democracy against theocracy, for democratic liberal values against repression – Israel’s enemies are our enemies and this is a battle in which we all stand together or we will all fall divided.”
Yesterday The Jewish Chronicle reported: “The Defence Secretary is known as a champion of Israel within the government. Speaking at the Herzliya Conference in February, which Mr Werritty also attended, he urged tougher sanctions against Iran, Mr Werritty’s area of expertise.”
Iran is suddenly Werrity’s area of expertise? Is there no end to the man’s advisory talent?
We simple-minded citizens expect a person accepting appointment as a Minister of the Crown to take the trouble to read and understand the Code and, as a man of honour, live by it. Fox has apologized to Parliament for “blurring” the distinction between his professional responsibilities and personal loyalties. But that’s not enough. He appears to have thrown caution and common sense to the wind and driven a coach and horses through the Code.
Aside from his obvious lack of judgment we have to consider the implications of his distorted reading of the Middle East and infatuation with a foreign military power that poses a nuclear threat to the region and is contemptuous of international law and human rights.
This “champion of Israel” dangles by his finger-nails pending further enquiries. Will he fall on his sword or wait to be tossed over the battlements?
Stuart Littlewood worked on jet fighters in the RAF then pursued a career in industrial marketing.
More recently he worked as a freelance and with innovation consultancies. Psychology degree Exeter University, Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Served as a Cambridgeshire county councilor 1993-97 and on the Police Authority. Associate of the Royal Photographic Society. Since retiring has been a newspaper columnist and produced two photo-documentary books. He is a regular contributor to a number of internet news magazines.
Stuart’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, tells the plight of the Palestinians under brutal occupation. It can now be read on the internet by visiting RadioFreePalestine.org.uk.