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Hague forced to play down association with Werrity

Foreign Secretary defends link to Atlantic Bridge as Labour calls for broader inquiry

Andy McSmith
Monday 17 October 2011 00:00 BST

William Hague and other leading right-wing Conservatives face the risk of being dragged into the Werritty affair as Labour called yesterday for a new inquiry that would go into wider issues than the relationship between Liam Fox and his unofficial adviser.

Labour is targeting Atlantic Bridge, the organisation set up by Liam Fox to foster closer links between the US and Britain. It was established as a registered charity until a Charity Commission investigation concluded that it was not an educational trust but a political organisation promoting a particular view of the transatlantic alliance.

Mr Werritty was chief executive of the UK branch of Atlantic Bridge for several years and Mr Hague, who is a close friend and ally of Liam Fox, was a member of its advisory council.

Yesterday, Mr Hague vigorously downplayed his involvement. He told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show that he and other members of the advisory council were "names on the letterhead", adding: "It doesn't mean that you know how the thing is run in detail."

Later, on Radio 4's World This Weekend programme, he said the advisory council "didn't meet ... [and] didn't advise it on its work". He also said that, since becoming Foreign Secretary he has no contact with Mr Werritty, though he knew him before the general election. "I have come across him, but only in passing. I can't say that I've exchanged more than few sentences with him," he said. However, when Mr Hague published his William Wilberforce biography in 2007 – the year in which Mr Werritty was appointed chief executive of the UK branch of Atlantic Bridge – the organisation paid for the New York launch of the US edition of Mr Hague's book. This is likely to be the occasion Mr Hague had in mind when he told Andrew Marr yesterday: "I spoke once at one event organised by Atlantic Bridge in the US."

The Foreign Secretary also dismissed speculation that Mr Fox and Mr Werritty had used Atlantic Bridge to promote a pro-US, Thatcherite foreign policy, separate from the Government's.

"If I asked [Liam Fox] not to go to Sri Lanka at a particular time, he didn't go. If I asked him when he went to convey the messages of the Government, then he conveyed those messages. So he acted, in my experience, in co-ordination with me and on the instructions of the Foreign Office in foreign policy," he said.

Labour's defence spokesman, Jim Murphy, called for Atlantic Bridge to be investigated. "This is an organisation that we know little about, yet five Cabinet ministers were involved," he said. "Is Liam Fox really the only one who knew what was going on? I don't think anyone believes that. We should follow the money trail and see where it leads."

The tangled web: Hague's role

What was William Hague's involvement in Atlantic Bridge?

Set up in 1997 to strengthen the "special relationship", the charity was later run by Adam Werritty before being dissolved, with £36,000 left in its accounts. Although Mr Hague has admitted speaking at an event organised by the charity in the US, and that he was on the charity's "advisory council", he claims he was little more than "a name on a letterhead". But it is still unclear what happened to the £36,000, what the charity's aims were and if Mr Hague furthered those aims.

What was it that the Foreign Secretary wanted Liam Fox to achieve in Sri Lanka?

Mr Hague said Mr Fox "acted in concert with me", as part of the Government's dealings. If so, what did the Foreign Secretary want him to achieve from a visit he previously opposed? There was evidence that thousands of Tamil civilians were massacred in a conflict with the Sri Lankan government in 2009, leading Mr Hague to intervene to prevent Mr Fox from making a private visit there in 2010. So why was Mr Hague so keen for Dr Fox to go back?

Paul Cahalan

Chloe Smith: fast-tracked to the top

Every Tory MP who was in the Commons before 2005 has seen his chances fade away after David Cameron's first government reshuffle. The new appointments were made in a hurry after Liam Fox resigned on Friday. According to The Sunday Telegraph, the Prime Minister was so anxious to make a quick decision that he carried out the mini reshuffle by telephone from a railway platform, surrounded by Morris dancers.

The most striking promotion is that of 29-year-old Chloe Smith, who moved from being a junior whip to replace Justine Greening as Economic Secretary to the Treasury, after only two years as an MP. It is the fastest rise to this level of government in living memory. Ms Smith, whose reserved manner has earned the nicknames "Chlobot" and "Ice Maiden", won a by-election in Norwich North in July 2009.

Brought up in Norfolk, Ms Smith developed a consuming interest in politics in her teens. When she was an undergraduate at York University, she and her boyfriend of that time were well-known in student circles as right-wing Conservatives," said one of her contemporaries.

She arrived in the Commons as the youngest woman to be elected as a Tory MP. "This is David Cameron's first reshuffle, and there will be a lot of older Tories feeling very put out. He has basically closed the door on anyone who was here before 2005," one MP said.

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