North Somerset Conservatives have defended their embattled MP Liam Fox as the row surrounding him continues.
The first phase of an internal Government inquiry into his working relationship with his friend Adam Werritty failed to find a “smoking gun” that would have forced him to quit.
Dr Fox formally apologised to the House of Commons on Monday over his links with Mr Werritty, who worked for him in the 1990s and was best man at his wedding.
The North Somerset MP was given strong support both from Prime Minister David Cameron and a series of Tory MPs who said it was time to draw a line under the scandal. But the North Somerset MP is now facing a new complaint over his expenses.
Meanwhile a former leading local Conservative said Mr Werritty had been to a number of events in the constituency and said party members had “never had any issues with him”.
Dr Fox revealed he had met Mr Werritty 18 times on overseas trips, including family holidays, and on 22 occasions at the Ministry of Defence since the General Election last May – more than previously thought. He promised there would be no more private visits to the MoD and the friends would not meet socially abroad when he is on official business.
Dr Fox said: “I accept, with the benefit of hindsight, that I should have taken greater care to ensure a more transparent separation of Government, party political, and private business and that meetings were properly recorded to protect myself and Government from any suggestion of wrongdoing. I accept my personal responsibility for this.”
Downing Street said Dr Fox had made “serious mistakes” but Mr Cameron will wait for the conclusion of the investigation before making a final decision on his future. Other Tory MPs turned out in force for his emergency Commons statement. Among them was Filton & Bradley Stoke Tory MP Jack Lopresti, who told the Commons that
it was time to move on.
Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said Dr Fox had admitted breaking the Ministerial Code. Labour MP John Mann urged the Commissioner for Standards to investigate claims Dr Fox let Mr Werritty live rent-free at his taxpayer-funded London home in 2002-03, and ran a business from it.
Carl Francis-Pester, 45, former chairman and president of the North Somerset Conservative Association, said Adam Werritty had attended constituency events. Mr Francis-Pester, 45, said: “He did not come to any of the events in an official capacity, just as a friend of Liam’s. I do have sympathy with Liam as he has indicated these allegations could be as a result of a smear campaign.”
Councillor Arthur Terry, a trustee of the North Somerset Conservative Association, said: “Liam has served his constituency well and I am sad that this matter has come about.”