"Serious mistakes" yet Fox is still running
What an amazing afternoon of drama. Liam Fox gave a bravura performance in the Commons. Labour did not land a heavy blow, while senior Tories rallied behind him strongly.
A few moments later Downing Street released its reaction to the interim report by Ursula Brennan ... the statement talks of "serious mistakes" and implies that the Ministerial Code was not properly adhered to (a full copy is below).
Gosh. Ordinarily, such a hefty criticism from No 10 would kill a minister instantly. However the choreography of Fox making an apology first in the Commons means that the sting was pulled. Cameron can now say he was suitably severe, while Fox can say he has apologised already.
But the chase is still on. Fox's admission that he met Werritty abroad 18 times and 22 times in London raised eyebrows, and we still don't know exactly who was paying Werritty and why.
(Post script: Defence Sources have given briefings just now where answers to these basic questions were scanty and not very convincing. The general verdict of hacks present was that the smell is not going away.)
Here's No 10's statement in full:
A Downing Street spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister has now seen the interim findings of the Ministry of Defence's Permanent Secretary review into Liam Fox's relationship with Mr Adam Werrity, and discussed them with the Cabinet Secretary.
"It is clear, as Liam Fox himself said yesterday, that serious mistakes were made in allowing the distinction between professional responsibilities and personal loyalties to be blurred - and this has clearly raised concerns about impropriety and potential conflicts of interest. While the Permanent Secretary's initial conclusion is that no classified or other defence related official information was discussed with or given to Mr Werrity by the Secretary of State or the department, it is clear that much tighter procedures are needed within the department to ensure that the Ministerial Code is properly adhered to in future.
"Following these interim findings the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary to work with the Permanent Secretary to complete the report, addressing all the remaining questions that have been raised by this issue."
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