While the elevation from back bench obscurity to Foreign Secretary of London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has been reasonably good entertainment - and diverted many hacks and pundits - one other cabinet appointment made by new PM Theresa May has passed with little examination, and that is the return of disgraced former Defence Secretary Liam Fox.
It ought to be Goodnight From Them
Fox, who has been given the role of drumming up all that international trade which those who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU claim will come running to greet us after we are freed from the mythical Brussels yoke, should not have been let back into the cabinet. Moreover, the reasons for that are well documented. Ms May could have elevated Fox in order to give him the rope to string himself up, but this is a dangerous game.
Why this should be so can be seen in one reported sighting from Wednesday evening, reported by the always-observant David Lindsay, and confirmed by my good friend Sunny Hundal, who has Tweeted “From a contact: ‘A friend of mine in Parliament says Fox spent last night on Commons terrace drinking champagne with Adam Werritty. No shame’”. Fox has not changed his habits since being forced to resign five years ago.
What those habits entailed can be put directly: Fox took his pal Werritty, whose business cards told that he was an“adviser to Rt Hon Liam Fox MP”, along to all kinds of meetings from which his lack of official status, and absence of security clearance, should have disbarred him. Werritty made frequent visits to the Ministry of Defence. He accompanied Fox on trips abroad. He met at least one head of state.
Werritty went to meetings with defence contractors and diplomats, despite his lack of any formal status. As the Independent put it this week, “It was a serious breach of security and a serious abuse of governmental power … Liam Fox shouldn’t have just retired from the front bench; he should have been asked to resign as an MP in disgrace”. Yet there was Werritty on Wednesday evening, still there at Fox’s side.
There was more: Fox’s charity Atlantic Bridge, which was run by Werritty, was wound up after the Charity Commissioners passed adverse comment on its behaviour. It “had already been suspended for promoting Conservative party policies in defiance of regulations”. The Commissioners demanded its “‘current activities must cease immediately’ because ‘the activities of the charity have not furthered any of its other charitable purposes in any way’”. Yet still Fox remained an MP.
And he was still taken seriously by the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate, especially the Telegraph, which used his dubious services to bolster its support for the spooks against the Snowden revelations (additionally, this allowed Fox to put the boot in on the Guardian, which had blown the whistle on his and Werritty’s little game).
Liam Fox was an unsafe presence before his 2011 resignation. He still is an unsafe presence. Whatever the question posed of Ms May, Liam Fox is never the answer.