* Conservative Party co-chair Warsi under fire
* Apologises for not declaring business interest
* Referred to ministerial watchdog in rare move
By Mohammed Abbas
LONDON, June 4 British Prime Minister David
Cameron on Monday took the rare step of seeking advice over
allegations that his Conservative Party co-chairman had broken
ministerial rules, the latest twist in a row that has
embarrassed his beleaguered government.
Sayeeda Warsi has in recent weeks battled accusations of
improper expense claims, but on Sunday a newspaper alleged that
she had not declared a business interest with a relative who had
travelled with her on official business.
Cameron said he had asked Alex Allan, his adviser on the
ministerial code, on how to proceed in the case. Cameron decides
how to handle breaches of the code - there are no set sanctions.
No other politician has been referred to the adviser since
Cameron came to power in 2010, underlining the seriousness of
the allegations and lending weight to expectations that Warsi
will lose her post in any upcoming cabinet reshuffle.
The latest furore comes at a bad time for the
Conservative-led coalition government, which has seen its
popularity slump in the polls since a badly received annual
budget in March and the economy's return to recession in April
The opposition Labour party welcomed Warsi's referral to the
ministerial code watchdog, but accused Cameron of double
standards for his refusal to refer Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt
to Allan over allegations Hunt was too close to Rupert Murdoch.
Hunt had been in charge of scrutinising a bid by Murdoch's
News Corp for pay TV operator BSkyB.
"David Cameron is bending over backwards to defend Jeremy
Hunt because he knows that it is his own judgment, in appointing
a man he knew to be biased to oversee the BSkyB bid, that is in
question," Labour lawmaker Michael Dugher said.
Warsi, Britain's first Muslim woman to hold a cabinet post,
had travelled to Pakistan on official business with her
husband's second cousin Abid Hussain, a fact Warsi said was
known to British officials.
However, in a letter to Cameron made public on Monday she
said she had not realised the need to disclose her and Hussain's
common business interest in a small food company.
"I sincerely regret that I did not consider the significance
of this relationship with Mr Hussain when the arrangements for
the visit were being made," Warsi said in her letter.
"In retrospect, I accept that I should have made officials
aware of the business relationship between Mr Hussain and
myself, and for this I am sorry. I regret that this failure may
have caused embarrassment to the government," she added.
Replying to Warsi, Cameron said "there are clearly lessons"
for the future and he had asked that Allan examine the case.