Mon, Oct 10, 2011 - Page 6 News List

UK defense minister fights for job amid crisis over his ‘aide’

The Observer, LONDON

British Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox’s Cabinet future hangs in the balance as film evidence appears to contradict prior claims that his close friend Adam Werritty never attended formal meetings with overseas dignitaries. The film shows that Fox’s former flatmate, who was also best man at his wedding, met the president of Sri Lanka with Fox for a meeting in a London hotel last year, despite having no role in government.

The defense secretary has strenuously denied that 34-year-old Werritty had been present at any official meetings with foreign dignitaries. However, video and photographs appear to show Werritty shaking hands with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sri Lankan TV news footage and press photographs shows Werritty was apparently part of Fox’s delegation at the meeting with Rajapaksa, who has been accused of war crimes during the country’s civil war. The footage apparently shows Werritty shaking hands and bowing to Rajapaksa. Werritty was present as Fox discussed ongoing peace talks with the Tamil Tigers rebel group, Sri Lankan TV reported. The footage was handed to the Observer newspaper by Italian blogger Nomfup. Two separate sources have seen the footage and confirmed that it is Werritty in the film.

News of the meeting at the Dorchester hotel in London in early December will raise fresh concerns about whether Fox has misled members of parliament (MP) and the public about Werritty’s increasingly dubious role at the heart of government.

On Saturday night, as the opposition Labour party raised further concerns about the threat to national security, the prime minister’s office at No. 10 Downing Street stepped into the row. It ordered the initial findings of a UK Ministry of Defence inquiry into Werritty’s role as a self-styled adviser to Fox to be presented to British Prime Minister David Cameron today. The inquiry was scheduled to have been completed in two weeks.

Amid signs that support for Fox was ebbing away, No. 10’s line was that it was still supportive of him. However, the fact that it effectively ordered the inquiry to be speeded up shows its desperation to draw a line under the episode.

One source at the heart of government said: “The prime minister is remaining supportive of Liam while the facts are established, but we will see what happens on Monday.”

The storm engulfing Fox has grown since the Guardian last week revealed the extent of Werritty’s closeness to Fox, and that he had described himself as an adviser to the secretary of state on business cards, although he is not a government employee. Fox will come under intense pressure when he appears at defense questions in the House of Commons tomorrow. On Saturday night, Labour’s defense spokesman Jim Murphy demanded that Fox make a statement to the House.

“This is a self-inflicted political crisis and it seems to run and run with fresh allegations every day,” Murphy said. “There should be a full statement by the secretary of state on Monday in the House of Commons. If he doesn’t volunteer to make a full statement, I will seek to summon him. An inquiry is important, but so too are direct answers.”

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