3 Feb 2012

Huhne resigns after being charged over speeding allegations

Political Editor

Chris Huhne resigns as energy secretary after being charged with perverting the course of justice.

Speaking after the decision to prosecute him and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce was announced, Mr Huhne said he was quitting David Cameron’s cabinet so he could fight to clear his name. “I am innocent of these charges and I intend to fight this in the courts and I am confident that a jury will agree,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: “If he clears his name as he wishes to I have made it clear to him that I would like to see him back in government in a key position.”

Evan Harris, a former Liberal Democrat MP and one of Mr Huhne’s main supporters when he made his bid for the party leadership in 2007, told Channel 4 News: “He was a self-confident, senior, not abrasive but assertive person within cabinet firstly and in the media who recognised how important it was and was aware of how important it was to promote the Liberal Democrat brand within government and make clear that we’re absolutely not Conservatives and there are many things in the Conservative manifesto …. that we profoundly disagree with.”

Mr Huhne has been replaced by Business Minister Ed Davey, a fellow Liberal Democrat.

The results of an eight-month police investigation were made in a televised statement by Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC. He said the investigation showed that there was sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Mr Huhne and Ms Pryce.They are due to appear in court on 16 February.

The investigation came about after The Sunday Times reported that he had been caught speeding in Essex while an MEP in 2003. However, he is alleged to have escaped a driving ban by persuading Ms Pryce to accept the penalty points on his behalf.

Essex Police launched a formal inquiry in May, and the couple have been interviewed by officers twice. Mr Huhne has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and both Lib Dem and Tory colleagues expressed support for his remaining in post during the investigation.

Gary Gibbon blogs on the political impact of Huhne’s resignation and charges.

The Crown Prosecution Service decision was delayed by a court battle to obtain key emails from the Sunday Times, believed to be between its political editor and Ms Pryce. The newspaper finally handed over the crucial documents at the end of last month.

Mr Starmer said: “The essence of the charges is that between March and May 2003, Mr Huhne, having allegedly committed a speeding offence, falsely informed the investigating authorities that Ms Pryce had been the driver of the vehicle in question, and she falsely accepted that she was the driver.

“Accordingly, summonses against both Mr Huhne and Ms Pryce have been obtained from Westminster Magistrates’ Court and those summonses will now be served on them.”

The ministerial code states that “Ministers of the Crown are expected to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety”, but does not make clear whether ministers can remain in office if they have been charged with a criminal offence.

Mr Huhne is the second Lib Dem heavyweight to resign from the cabinet since the formation of the coalition government. David Laws resigned as chief secretary to the Treasury in May 2010 whilst facing allegations that he had broken rules on MPs’ expenses.