Fox broke ministerial code

Sir Gus O'Donnell's report into the conduct of the former Defence Secretary has been published.

The report into the conduct of the Defence Secretary Liam Fox has just been published, and it has found -- as expected -- that the former minister committed "a clear breach of the Ministerial Code". Fox stood down on Friday amid mounting pressure over his relationship with his close friend and self-styled adviser, Adam Werritty.

The report has reiterated that the Cabinet Office was not aware of Werritty, saying that he was "neither a special adviser nor an official unpaid adviser". It concludes that "there was an inappropriate blurring of lines between official and personal relationships". It says that there is no evidence that Fox gained financially from the relationship, but that the "impression" of a blurring of interests was created.

To prevent such a situation arising again, it recommends that "officials should accompany Ministers to all official visits and meetings overseas at which it is expected that official matters may be raised".

Here are the conclusions on Fox's conduct:

He should have declared to his Permanent Secretary that Mr Werritty was a friend who had a company, Pargav, which was funded by a number of donors, some of whom had provided funding to Dr Fox when in Opposition.

22. The Ministerial Code requires Ministers to ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise. Dr Fox's actions clearly constitute a breach of the Ministerial Code which Dr Fox has already acknowledged. This was a failure of judgement on his part for which he has taken the ultimate responsibility in resigning office. Your foreword to the Ministerial Code makes clear that you expect Ministers to act in the national interest, above improper influence, and to serve to the highest standards of conduct. The Ministerial Code sets out very clearly the standards of behaviour required from Ministers. Dr Fox did not live up to these standards which he has since acknowledged.

23. Dr Fox's close and visible association with Mr Werrity in the UK and overseas, and the latter's use of misleading business cards, has fuelled a general impression that Mr Werritty spoke on behalf of the UK Government. The risks of Dr Fox's association with Mr Werritty were raised with Dr Fox by both his private office and the Permanent Secretary. Dr Fox took action in respect of business cards but clearly made a judgement that his contact with Mr Werritty should continue. This may have been a reasonable judgement had the contacts been minimal and purely personal and had not involved Mr Werritty's frequent attendance at meetings in the MoD main building and on overseas visits. The damage arose because the frequency, range and extent of these contacts were not regulated as well as they should have been and this was exacerbated by the fact that Dr Fox did not make his department aware of all the various contacts. I also conclude that the links and a lack of clarity of roles means that the donations given to Mr Werritty could be seen as giving rise to the perception of a conflict of interest.

24. In this case there was an inappropriate blurring of lines between official and personal relationships. Mr Werritty should not have been provided with access to Dr Fox's diary and itinerary. Nor should he have been allowed to participate in the social elements of the then Defence Secretary's overseas trips in a way which might have given rise to the impression that he was part of the official party. He should have had meetings in the MOD with such frequency as did occur, as this access may have provided others with a belief that Mr Werritty was speaking for Government and was part of an official entourage. This impression was of course reinforced by the business cards which Mr Werritty provided to people. However, I have found no evidence that Dr Fox gained financially in any way from this relationship.

UPDATE: Fox has now responded, Coffee House has the full statement which is partly extracted below:

I am pleased that the report makes clear that the two most serious allegations, namely of any financial gain sought, expected or received by myself and any breach of national security, have no basis. As I said in the House of Commons last week, I accept that it was a mistake to allow the distinctions between government and private roles to become blurred, and I must take my share of the responsibility for this.

More care should have been taken to avoid the impression that anyone other than Minsters and Officials were speaking on behalf of the Government, as this was not the case. Although there were no actual conflicts of interest I acknowledge that in order to avoid any possible perception of this, all private interests should have been fully declared to the Permanent Secretary. :

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.