PM's impartiality in doubt after Christmas date with Murdoch executive

 

David Cameron was yesterday accused of "tucking into turkey" with a senior News Corporation executive days after he intervened in the company's bid to take full control of BSkyB.

The Prime Minister went to the Oxfordshire home of Rebekah Brooks during the Christmas holiday, shortly after he stripped the Business Secretary Vince Cable of responsibility for ruling on the deal. (Mr Cable had been caught "declaring war" on the News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch.)

Mr Cameron faces questions over the appropriateness of the visit while News Corp faces a possibly lengthy competition inquiry into its attempt to buy BSkyB.

The visit came shortly after Mr Cameron passed the quasi-judicial responsibility for the decision to the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt – who had previously appeared to back the proposed take-over.

Mr Murdoch is currently in the UK on News Corp business. Usually such visits coincide with board meetings, Sky's annual results or the summer party of News Corp subsidiary News International.

This is not the case, however, this time – which has led to speculation that Mr Murdoch may be in London to finalise a deal with the Government over News Corp's attempt to buy the 60.9 per cent of BSkyB that it does not already own.

News Corp is understood to have already offered "concessions" to the Government over the deal. One possibility is that it might separate Sky News from BSkyB either by selling the 24-hour satellite news channel or "hiving" it off and giving it complete independence while continuing to fund it.

Yesterday Labour described the decision by Mr Cameron to visit Ms Brooks and her husband, the former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, at their home near his own constituency property as "extraordinary".

The Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis told the House of Commons: "The Secretary of State for Business was stripped of his responsibilities for boasting he has declared war on Mr Murdoch. The Secretary of State [for Culture] is on the record as saying he sees no problem with the deal.

"And now the Prime Minister is found to be tucking into a turkey in the middle of this process with the chief executive of News International. What breathtaking arrogance and contempt for their constitutional responsibilities."

Downing Street said it would never comment on Mr Cameron's personal engagements. Officials there said he was taking no involvement at all in the BSkyB deal.

"They live near one another and it is no secret that they have met socially on occasions," said a Downing Street source. "But to suggest that this was anything to do with the BSkyB deal is ridiculous."

Mr Hunt was handed Ofcom's report of its probe into the bid on 31 December and he is expected to make a decision about whether to refer it to the Competition Commission before the end of the month.

"It is incredibly important that due process is followed at every stage," Mr Hunt told the Commons yesterday.

"We will publish exactly what we have done and who we have met at every stage of the process when I make my decision, in order for Parliament to be able to scrutinise that the process has been totally fair and totally impartial."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us