the Prime Minister issued a plea for political consensus as deep divisions emerged in the coalition and his own party ahead of today’s Leveson report on reforming newspaper regulation.
As David Cameron faced a major storm within Tory ranks, the Liberal Democrats suggested they may refuse to allow him to make a sole response on behalf of the Government.
Conservative MPs were ranged against each other amid speculation Lord Justice Leveson will back statutory regulation of the press. Dozens yesterday signed an open letter warning against statutory regulation – days after 42 of their colleagues called for tougher laws to curb newspapers’ excesses.
The latest group included “big beasts” Liam Fox and David Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, as well as media select committee chairman John Whittingdale and 1922 committee chairman Graham Brady. Yorkshire MPs Philip Davies, Shipley, Stuart Andrew, Pudsey, and Graham Stuart, for Beverley and Holderness, also signed.
Mr Cameron and his Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg, MP for Sheffield Hallam, pored over advance copies of the report yesterday afternoon, trying to agree a joint approach.
Mr Clegg is reportedly ready to support the rapid creation of a regulator with statutory underpinning, a move that would be implacably opposed by many Tories, and Mr Cameron is thought to be resisting.
Aides have asked Speaker John Bercow whether Mr Clegg can make a separate statement to MPs if no deal has been struck by the time the premier gets to his feet at 3pm today. Mr Bercow’s office said last night it was ready to accommodate the request.
A final decision will not be taken until senior ministers from both parties meet just before the report is published.
The regulation issue was repeatedly raised as the Prime Minister took questions in the Commons yesterday – before he began studying the document.
“I think we should try and work across party lines on this issue, it is right to meet with other party leaders about this issue and I will do so,” he said. “What matters most I believe is we end up with an independent regulatory system that can deliver and in which the public have confidence.”
All three main party leaders have indicated they will support Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations as long as they are “proportionate”.
But there is speculation Mr Cameron could offer Parliament a free vote rather than try to force through measures and suffer a damaging rebellion.