Cameron: No deal with Murdochs over BSkyB purchase

  • Cameron admits discussing BSkyB bid at Brooks party
  • PM accused of failing to take action on Hunt’s alleged breaches of ministerial code
  • Calls for Cameron to face MPs at Commons today
  • Labour claims PM is ‘still trying to hide behind the Leveson Inquiry’

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted there was no ‘grand deal’with News Corp over its bid to takeover BSkyB – as he comes under press to face MPs today over claims his Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt breached the ministerial code.

Cameron appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday morning when he admitted it was a mistake to attend a Christmas dinner with former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and ex-executive chairman James Murdoch at which the BSkyB bid was discussed.

The Prime Minister admitted having a conversation with Murdoch over his proposed bid at a December 2010 party at the Oxfordshire home of Brooks, but said there was no ‘grand deal’to back the takeover in exchange for Tory backing from News International’s newspapers.

The dinner took place on 23 December – just a few days after Business Secretary Vince Cable claimed to have ‘declared war’on Rupert Murdoch and was subsequently stripped of responsibility for deciding on the bid.

Cameron said: ‘What I recall saying, although I can’t remember every detail of the conversation, is saying something like: Clearly that was unacceptable, it was embarrassing for the Government, and to be clear from now on this whole issue would be dealt with impartially, properly, in the correct way, but obviously I had nothing to do with it, I recused myself from it.”‘

Asked if he was embarrassed about attending the party, he replied: ‘Clearly, after all that’s been written and said about it, yes of course one might do things differently.”

He added: ‘The thing that people are asking really is: Was there some big deal, some big agreement between me and Rupert Murdoch or James Murdoch that in return for their support for the Conservative Party, I would somehow help their business interests or allow this merger to go through? I mean that is not true.

‘Rupert Murdoch said it under oath at the Leveson Inquiry, James Murdoch said it under oath, I will say it under oath.

‘Look, I did want the support of as many newspapers and as many television commentators for the Conservative Party because I wanted to take the country in a different direction. So you know there’s no great mystery here.

‘Right, let’s assume there had been [a deal]. Would I have appointed Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat with quite a track record of not being particularly keen on News Corporation and Rupert Murdoch, to the job of running competition policy? Of course not. So the whole thing I think falls down. There was no grand deal.”

Camerson ‘trying to hide behind Leveson Inquiry’

The Prime Minister is now under pressure from Labour to face allegations that he is failing to take action on alleged breaches of the ministerial code by Hunt.

Last week Hunt rejected repeated calls for his resignation from Labour and insisted he had behaved with “scrupulous fairness” throughout the failed News Corp bid.

Emails released by News Corp last Tuesday appeared to show ‘back-channel’communications between Hunt’s office and News Corp throughout its BSkyB bid, and his special adviser Adam Smith quit the day after a cache of emails were made public by James Murdoch.

Cameron has given his backing to Hunt, telling Hunt: ‘As things stand, I don’t believe Jeremy Hunt broke the ministerial code.”

He has also refused to call in the Government’s independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, to looking into the Hunt allegations and said issue should be looked into by the Leveson Inquiry,

If evidence comes out through this exhaustive inquiry where you’re giving evidence under oath – if he did breach the ministerial code, then clearly that’s a different issue and I would act,” he said.

He added: ‘I don’t think it would be right in every circumstance if a special adviser gets something wrong to automatically sack the minister.”

A Labour source was quoted widely in the press this morning saying: “David Cameron is still trying to hide behind the Leveson Inquiry.

“With Parliament breaking up on Tuesday, Mr Cameron must come to the Commons and explain to the British people why he is ducking his responsibilities to enforce the ministerial code.”

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