David Cameron appears to have made a surprise U-turn by reviving plans to allow the public to sack MPs who behave badly.
The Prime Minister’s move, at the Cabinet’s weekly meeting, came on a day when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats clashed over tax cuts and Europe, as well as whether to allow constituents to “recall” MPs sent to prison or found guilty of “serious wrongdoing” by colleagues.
The Independent revealed last month that the Tories had angered the Lib Dems by blocking the Coalition’s previous proposal to legislate on “recall” before next year’s general election.
Mr Cameron surprised Nick Clegg during the Cabinet’s discussion of the Bills to be included in the Queen’s Speech for the final year of the five-year parliament – which will begin in May or June – by saying he was committed to one on the recall of MPs.
Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said later: “It is part of the Coalition Agreement. A draft Bill was published. That has long reflected the Prime Minister’s view… The legislation will be introduced when parliamentary time allows.”
Lib Dems welcomed what they called a “surprising change of tune”. One senior source said: “The Lib Dems have consistently been arguing for a recall Bill and the Tories have consistently opposed that, so we welcome their conversion to our position. We hope they are being genuine about it this time, because some of their previous commitments to political reform have been skin-deep at best.”
Mr Clegg will now bring back the draft Bill, which proposed that 10 per cent of an MP’s constituents would have to sign a petition requesting a recall for a by-election to happen.
This would apply to cases where the MP is sent to jail for a year or less, or if the Commons decided that an MP’s behaviour justified it.
MPs sentenced to more than a year in prison automatically lose their seats.
Lib Dem sources said it was “100 per cent true” that the recall proposal was dead last month, when the Tories showed “no interest” in pursuing the issue before the election next year.
But Cameron allies insisted the Prime Minister had always intended to implement a Tory manifesto pledge at the 2010 election made in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal.
In the wake of the news that the power to recall MPs was to be dropped, Tory MP Zac Goldsmith said his party had “covered itself in shame over this issue”.
However, he claimed that the Lib Dems had not led the way in pursuing the policy, saying: “It is beyond parody for Nick Clegg to pretend that he has been pushing for the legislation... I know first-hand that the opposite is true.”
One theory on the apparent U-turn is that Tory Ministers decided to fight back against the Lib Dems for playing a “blame game” on blocked legislation as the two Coalition parties diverge before the general election.
Similarly, George Osborne and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith called at today’s Cabinet meeting for the Queen’s Speech to include a Bill to enshrine in law Mr Cameron’s pledge to hold an in/out referendum on the EU by 2017.
The Lib Dems have always refused to give government backing to such legislation, saying it is wrong to set a referendum date in stone.
Mr Clegg will argue today that pro-Europeans like the Lib Dems are the “real reformers”, claiming that Ukip MEPs rarely turn up to vote in the European Parliament.
In a speech in London, the Deputy Prime Minister will insist that his party does not support “intrusive” proposals by Brussels, and that the UK should keep its opt-out from the 48-hour maximum working week.
On tax, Mr Clegg hit back at Conservative attempts to claim ownership of the Coalition’s decision to raise the personal allowance to £10,000 a year, the Lib Dems’ flagship policy.
Accusing the Tories of “brass neck”, Mr Clegg said: “I’ve had to drag the Conservative party, kicking and screaming, in every single Budget negotiation.”