Jeremy Hunt: 'I won't quit over BSkyB allegations'

Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt leaving the Department of Culture, Media and Sport
Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt leaving the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Credit: Press Association

The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is defying calls to quit tonight after allegations he secretly backed News Corporation's bid to take over satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Mr Hunt said he conducted the process with "scrupulous fairness" and has written to the Leveson Inquiry asking to be given an early date to give his side of the story in formal evidence.

The dramatic development came as the Leveson Inquiry released a 163-dossier of emails detailing contacts between the Culture Secretary's office and a senior executive at News Corp.

Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt
Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt Credit: Reuters

In a statement tonight Mr Hunt said:

Now is not a time for kneejerk reactions. We've heard one side of the story today but some of the evidence reported meetings and conversations that simply didn't happen. Rather than jump on political bandwagon, we need to hear what Lord Justice Leveson thinks after he's heard all the evidence. Let me be clear my number one priority was to give the public confidence in the integrity of process. I asked for advice from independent regulators - which I didn't have to do - and I followed that advice to the letter. I would like to resolve this issue as soon as possible which is why I have today written to Lord Justice Leveson asking if my appearance can be brought forward. I am very confident that when I present my evidence the public will see that I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness."

Labour said documents showed that Mr Hunt failed to fulfil his quasi-judicial role in relation to the proposed takeover, which he had promised to carry out in a "fair and even-handed" way.

And they said that David Cameron also had questions to answer, after News Corp executive James Murdoch told the Inquiry that he and the Prime Minister had briefly discussed the BSkyB bid in December 2010 - days after Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of his decision-making power on the takeover.

I think looking through these emails there is just overwhelming evidence that while he was telling Parliament and while he was saying his duty was not to take one side or the other in the BSkyB takeover he was providing all kinds of information both through himself and his advisors to the Murdoch's and News Corporation.

In those circumstances he singularly failed to exercise his duties. He was a Secretary of State who was far too close to the big media interests, to News Corporation, we cannot have that in a Secretary of State, we cannot have that in a Government.

He cannot stay in his post and if he refuses to resign the Prime Minister must show some leadership and fire him.

– Ed Miliband MP. Labour leader
Email from Frederic Michel email to James Murdoch discussing Jeremy Hunt
Email from Frederic Michel email to James Murdoch discussing Jeremy Hunt Credit: Leveson Inquiry

Emails sent by a lobbyist for News Corp stated that Jeremy Hunt "shared our objectives" and one email said he had got hold of some information on what Hunt would say in his statement on the deal, although he added that this was "absolutely illegal".

The government's willingness last year to approve the controversial deal prompted critics to argue that David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt had been too close to the Murdochs.

After the hacking allegations snowballed, Cameron called on News Corp to withdraw the bid.

Extracts from the damaging emails have been published on the website of the Leveson Inquiry.

You can read more detail on the contact between Jeremy Hunt and James Murdoch's executive here.

Asked whether David Cameron still had full confidence in Mr Hunt, the Prime Minister's official spokesman told reporters at a regular Westminster briefing: "Yes."