The inquiry into Liam Fox’s conduct should continue despite him stepping down as Defence Secretary, the opposition Labour party said Saturday.
Fox resigned after a week of pressure over his working relationship with his friend, Adam Werritty. He has been replaced by Philip Hammond. Labour said it is unclear who paid for Werritty’s trips abroad with Fox.
Venture capitalist Jon Moulton on Friday said Fox approached him after the election seeking funds for a company set up by Werritty.
The Times newspaper reported that Werritty set up the firm, Pargav, as a not-for-profit company to fund his trips abroad.
Moulton said he was told Pargav was involved in “security policy analysis and research”.
According to the Daily Mail newspaper, Moulton bought a defence company eight months before giving money to Pargav. Fox’s conduct is being investigated by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell and a report is due to be published early next week. It is expected to be very critical of his actions, the media suggested.
The defence secretary had been under intense pressure this week after it emerged that Werritty had met him 22 times at the Ministry of Defence and joined him on 18 overseas trips since he came to office last year – despite having no official role.
Labour has called for a broader investigation into the rules governing ministerial conduct. Labours Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said there were still many unanswered questions, such as who was funding Werritty’s global travels, why were they doing it and why was it allowed to continue for so long. Werritty, a former flatmate of Fox and the best man at his wedding, handed out business cards suggesting he was his adviser and was present at meetings Fox had with military figures, diplomats and defence contractors.
Questions have been raised about who paid for Werritty’s business activities and whether he had personally benefited from his frequent access to the defence secretary.
Meanwhile, Philip Hammond said it was a “real honour and privilege” to take over from Fox Murphy saidl Fox’s resignation could not be the end of the matter. In a related development, officials at the Department for International Development had raised concerns about Werritty’s involvement in Sri Lanka where, it is claimed, defence contracts were being touted.
In a swift reshuffle by the prime minister, the defence secretary was on Friday replaced by Transport Secretary. Hammond..
Treasury minister Justine Greening was handed Hammond’s post – becoming the fifth woman in the Cabinet.
In a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence (Mod), Hammond said he would “ensure that our defences are robust and that the finances that lie behind them are equally robust”.
The former First Sea Lord, a senior Navy post, and Labour Security Minister, Lord West, told the BBC Radio he did not think Hammond was really a defence expert.
“I think he’s one of these people who does understand money and costs and that sort of thing, but I’m not sure that he’s really a man with a great knowledge of defence.”
But the commentators says someone who understands money might be exactly what the MoD needs, given the procurement problems it has had.
They say Hammond has been a safe pair of hands in transport and proved he could add up while in opposition.
Conservative MP Peter Bone told BBC TV it would have been in the national interest for Fox to remain defence secretary.
“He put, of course, the country first rather than his personal career and resigned, because the media was in such a frenzy it was distracting from the job and he decided to go and I think that was typical of Liam,” Bone said.
Some of the newspapers have also praised Fox, with the Daily Telegraph saying even his opponents acknowledged his tenacity.