Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister
Liam Fox (North Somerset, Conservative)
Two weeks ago, I visited Misrata in Libya, and I met a man who showed me photographs of his dead children. A few days later, I resigned from the Cabinet. One was an unbearable tragedy, the other was a deep personal disappointment. I begin with that necessary sense of proportion.
As I said in the House last week,
“I accept that it was a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and my personal loyalty to a friend.”—[Hansard, 10 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 23.]
I accepted then that it was a mistake to attend a meeting with a potential supplier without an official present and, with hindsight, I should have been more willing to listen to the concerns of those around me. I have attempted to be clear and transparent on all the issues raised.
I would like to say again that I am very sorry to my colleagues in the House and to all those who feel let down by the decisions I have made. I have always believed in personal responsibility, and I accept the Cabinet Secretary’s conclusions. I am pleased at the explicit acknowledgment that I neither sought, expected nor received any financial gain. That was being widely and wrongly implied. I also welcome the clarification of the fact that no national security issues were breached, that no classified documents were made available, and that no classified matters were briefed. Those accusations, too, were widely made and are deeply hurtful.
The ministerial code has been found to be breached, and for this I am sorry. I accept that it is not only the substance but perception that matters, and that is why I chose to resign. I accept the consequences for me without bitterness or rancour. I do not blame anyone else, and I believe that you do not turn your back on your friends or family in times of trouble. However, it is unacceptable that family and friends who have nothing to do with the central issues should be hounded and intimidated by elements of the media, including in this case elderly relatives and children. It is difficult to operate in the modern environment, as we know, where every bit of information, however irrelevant or immaterial, is sensationalised, and where opinions or even accusations
are treated as fact. It was particularly concerning that Harvey Boulter, who was present at the Dubai meeting and subsequently the defendant in a blackmail case, was treated so unquestioningly.
Last week’s media frenzy was not unprecedented, and it happens where a necessary free press and politics collide, but I believe that there was, from some quarters, a personal vindictiveness—even hatred—that should worry all of us. But just as these events can bring out the worst in human nature, they also bring out the best. I have been touched, and frankly overwhelmed, by huge numbers of letters, e-mails and calls, from friends and strangers alike, in particular from my constituents in North Somerset. That has meant more to me than anyone can know.
I would also like to thank my parliamentary colleagues, including those in the Cabinet, for their strong and generous support, which shows politicians at their best—although I apologise that it may take me some time to get round to thanking all of you in person.
I am also indebted to my loyal staff for their support, in particular to my special advisers, who find themselves out of work as a result of my decision. I will miss the Ministry of Defence and the fantastic people who work there, military and civilian. It has been a life-changing experience and a great honour to work with some of the bravest and best people in our country. I am proud of what we have achieved there in 17 months and I will help in any way my successor, who I know will do an absolutely excellent job.
I would like to thank my family and friends for their love and support. It is not easy to watch someone you care about being attacked in a very aggressive and prolonged way. We choose this life; they do not. Of course, I would like above all to thank my wife, Jesme, who has dealt with this whole business with her usual grace, dignity and unstinting support.
Finally, it is not always easy to be in public life, but it is an honour, so I would like to thank all the party leaders, including the Prime Minister, who have enabled me to serve on the Front Bench for 17 consecutive years. I will give this Government my full support as they rescue our economy from the mess we inherited.
Most of all, I would like to thank my constituents in North Somerset for giving me the honour to represent them in the House of Commons and the opportunity to serve.