Sun, Oct 16, 2011 - Page 1 News List

British minister of defense resigns in ‘best man’ scandal

CALMER WATERS:Philip Hammond was named as the new defense minister, which commentators have said is a ‘reassuringly boring’ appointment


British Defence Secretary Liam Fox resigned on Friday amid a spiraling scandal over his links to the best man at his wedding, becoming the first Conservative minister to quit the coalition government.

Fox, who played a key role in Britain’s military campaigns in Libya and Afghanistan, stepped down after it emerged that his friend Adam Werritty posed as a government adviser and took a string of foreign trips with the minister.

In his resignation letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, Fox admitted he had “mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my government activities to become blurred.”

“The consequences of this have become clearer in recent days,” he said, adding: “I am very sorry for this.”

Philip Hammond, the low-key Conservative former transport minister, was named as Fox’s replacement.

Cameron said Fox had helped prevent Libyans being “massacred” by former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces and had done a “superb job” since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power last year.

With rumors swirling about the nature of Fox’s relationship with his 34-year-old former flatmate, Fox apologized to parliament this week and admitted Werritty had accompanied him on 18 foreign trips since he became minister, including a high-profile visit to Sri Lanka.

Werritty also visited Fox 22 times at the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in London and carried business cards describing himself as Fox’s adviser despite having no official government role.

However, the killer blow came on Friday with reports that financial backers linked to Israel and a private security firm had funded Werritty’s first-class travel and hotel stays during his time with the minister.

Werritty was interviewed for a second time on Friday by civil servants as part of an inquiry ordered by Cameron last week into whether Fox broke the ministerial code of conduct, a government source said.

Fox said in his letter to Cameron he had “repeatedly said that the national interest must always come before personal interest. I now have to hold myself to my own standard.”

Meanwhile, 55-year-old Hammond, who was appointed transport minister when the coalition government took office last year, has now been moved into one of the toughest jobs in the Cabinet.

Downing Street confirmed his appointment, saying his position at the department of transport would be filled by Justine Greening, a junior finance minister.

Hammond comes from a business background and has not taken the defense brief before, despite serving in numerous departments during the Conservative party’s 13 years in opposition, which began as he entered the House of Commons in 1997.

However, commentators described him as a safe pair of hands, a “reassuringly boring” appointment to calm the waters at the MOD.

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