Apology has bought Liam Fox time, but it’s not over

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Defence secretary Liam Fox’s apologetic appearance in the House of Commons looks like it has bought him some time.

But he’s not out of the woods yet, despite support from Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock, who claims Mr Fox has been the victim of a smear campaign after trying to take on the Ministry of Defence in a battle over the way it is run.

Those in the know say a full report from the MoD’s permanent secretary into Mr Fox’s links with defence industry consultant Adam Werritty is not due until October 21.

Depending on the contents, prime minister David Cameron may still conclude that Mr Fox has to be sacrificed.

He has denied any wrongdoing, but there is no doubt that Mr Fox was extremely unwise to allow himself to be left wide open to fierce criticism from the opposition benches.

Not surprisingly, Labour has sought to gain maximum political capital out of this story.

The facts are that Mr Fox has met Mr Werritty, the best man at his wedding, 40 times in the last 16 months – including 18 times on overseas trips and during 22 visits by Mr Werritty to the MoD.

Mr Werritty has also handed out business cards falsely claiming to be the defence secretary’s MoD adviser – something Mr Fox stopped when he found out about it.

Mr Fox insists that Mr Werritty was never present at regular departmental meetings and that during their private meetings they did not discuss either commercial or defence matters.

He maintains there has been no access to classified documents or any briefing of Mr Werritty on classified matters.

But perception is a powerful thing and the extent of Mr Fox’s contact with a man working in the defence industry, plus some pretty blurred distinctions between what constituted business or social meetings, does not look good.

He was right to appear before the House and say sorry. But Mr Fox must know that this isn’t going to go away easily.

His fate may yet hang in the balance.