Chief Secretary leads Commons counter-attack

BY COLIN BROWN

Chief Political Correspondent

Brushing aside calls for his resignation, Jonathan Aitken yesterday led a counter-attack in the Commons over allegations that he had been on the board of a company which broke government guidelines over the export of arms to Iran.

Tory MPs cheered and waved their order papers when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury rejected a challenge by Andrew Smith, Labour's Treasury spokesman, over whether he had the confidence of the country to remain in office.

He accused Gerald James, the former chairman of Astra, BMARC's parent company, of being "bitter" and in an "unholy alliance" with the Independent over the disclosures that the company, of which Mr Aitken was a director, had exported arms to Iran via Singapore. He also denied any knowledge of the exports, codenamed Project Lisi.

Reading from a prepared statement, Mr Aitken said: "Yes I do and I believe so because the facts are clear and I welcome this opportunity to reiterate again, since you have challenged me.

"Let me make it crystal clear that at no board meeting of the company I was on the board of seven years ago and in no board paper of that company was I ever given the slightest indication or information that could suggest that the company's wholly legitimate contract with Singapore might subsequently result in components being shipped to Iran. My view of these matters has now been publicly supported by four former directors of the company, including General Isles who was responsible for the contract, including the managing director of the company, and so the deposed and bitter chairman [Gerald James] is now isolated on his own in making irresponsible comments."

He added: "What we are seeing here is an unholy alliance of a failed chairman and a failing newspaper and it's no reason to challenge my integrity or my position in this government." However, the challenges continued as Denis MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham, called on Mr Aitken to resign. The Chief Secretary tersely replied: "no."

John Major also faced a call to sack Mr Aitken during Prime Minister's questions in the Commons. His office earlier had said that Mr Aitken had Mr Major's support, but the Prime Minister refused to go further in the House when challenged by Nigel Griffiths, Labour MP for Edinburgh South.

"I believe Mr Aitken dealt with that matter very forcibly and to great acclaim from most of the House just a few moments ago. He has made his position absolutely clear. No evidence has been found to counter that either by the Independent newspaper or anyone else."

The row spilled over into questions to Tony Newton, the Leader of the House. Ann Taylor, Labour's Shadow Leader of the House, underlined Labour's frontbench demands for an inquiry into Mr Aitken's involvement. She said some issues had not been clarified and told Mr Newton: "Will you ensure there is an immediate, specific and independent inquiry to look at these new allegations [so] that Parliament can learn and then assess the full facts surrounding this case."

Mr Newton said Mr Aitken had made two "very full" statements on Wednesday about his role and had spoken to the House. "I certainly do not intended to add to what they have said."

Earlier, Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow and a veteran campaigner for probity in public affairs, asked what had happened to the "doctrine of ministerial responsibility" under which ministers were expected to resign, pointing out that the late Nicholas Ridley had complimented Customs and Excise for their pursuit of the export of arms to Iraq and the seizure of the supergun, which is at the centre of the Scott inquiry. David Heathcoat- Amory, Paymaster General, said nothing had happened to the doctrine. As for criticism or blame that may accrue from the inquiry, "we must await the report".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
A daily miscellany of general election facts, figures, trivia and traditions
voicesThere's still time for someone to do something to make us care
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, goes back to his family's Sicilian roots in the first 'Godfather' film
film
News
news
News
Kim Kardashian speaks on the Today show about her step-father's transition
PEOPLE
Sport
Wenger and Mourinho square-up to each other earlier this season
sportAll the action from today's Premier League, including Everton vs Man Utd and Chelsea vs Arsenal
News
Tepper had a stunningly successful career as a songwriter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Len Blavatnik
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions