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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496