Pressure eases on Britain's under-fire defence minister

10th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron backed his under-fire defence minister on Monday, insisting he would not rush to judgment on claims Liam Fox let a close friend work as his unofficial advisor.

Fox is under intense pressure following allegations that his former flatmate Adam Werritty posed as his advisor, brokered meetings with businessmen and accompanied him on ministerial trips including to Sri Lanka and Dubai.

The opposition Labour party has questioned whether Fox, 50, put national security at risk with his relationship with the 34-year-old Werritty, who has also made numerous visits to the defence ministry in the past year.

Fox rejects this accusation, although he apologised Sunday for giving "the impression of wrongdoing", and admitted he allowed "distinctions to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and my personal loyalties".

After a visit to Libya at the weekend which was overshadowed by the row, Fox was due to answer questions on the scandal in the House of Commons later on Monday, and was also set to make a statement to lawmakers.

But just hours before, the pressure eased when Cameron's office made clear he would not be rushing to judgment on his minister's behaviour, and the prime minister himself issued a strong declaration of support.

"He does an excellent job, he leads that department well, he has my support. I know he wants to answer these questions and clear the air and he has my support as he does that," Cameron told Sky News.

Fox's behaviour is being investigated by the top civil servant in the Ministry of Defence, who is due to report back on October 21.

In a move widely viewed as a sign that his support for his minister was wavering, Cameron asked on Saturday for an interim report on the findings to be given to him by Monday.

But his office insisted on Monday that this report was only preliminary, suggesting that the prime minister may delay any decision on Fox.

"There has been a series of allegations made. Before we draw any conclusions we want to establish the facts, and not just some of the facts but the full picture," Cameron's official spokesman told reporters.

The prime minister himself said: "It's very important in politics and in life to be scrupulously fair... It's important that as the leader of the team you give your team members the time to explain themselves."

© 2011 AFP

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