The Deputy Prime Minister will this afternoon take the extraordinary step of dissenting publicly from his own Government’s response to the Leveson Inquiry’s blueprint for the future of a free press in Britain.
In an unprecedented move, Nick Clegg will make a separate response to the Leveson Report, after David Cameron, at the same Government dispatch box this afternoon.
The two men met for 40 minutes to discuss the report last night and are due to meet again this morning to try to thrash out a joint approach, but admit this may prove impossible.
Mr Clegg’s aides tried to play down the significance of the separate statement suggesting Mr Clegg merely wanted to make the Liberal Democrat position on Leveson clear in the light of plans to try and find a cross-party consensus.
However yesterday senior Liberal Democrats said Mr Clegg was keen not to make a separate statement and was content for Mr Cameron to represent the Government if a joint approach could be agreed.
The confirmation that Mr Clegg will make a separate statement suggests that having read the Leveson Report he has come to the conclusion that he needs to take a tougher line on press regulation than the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, former government spin doctor Andy Coulson and ex-News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks appeared in court today to face charges linked to alleged corrupt payments to public officials.
The pair were among five people who appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court accused of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.
In an attempt to win Liberal Democrat support, the Prime Minister is expected to reject the proposals from the Press Complaints Commission for self-regulation of the newspaper industry and will open the door to a form of regulation that is more independent of the industry – but without Parliamentary legislation.
But should Lord Justice Leveson come out strongly in favour of statutory regulation, this is unlikely to be enough to win over Mr Clegg, who is determined not to be seen to be giving in to a concerted lobbying campaign by newspapers.
Both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg spent yesterday afternoon with aides trying to formulate a response to Lord Justice Leveson's report, which was delivered to No 10 at lunchtime and was said to run to some 2,000 pages. As he left Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron quipped to Mr Clegg: "Right, let's go away and do our reading."
In public, Mr Cameron promised to seek cross-party agreement on newspaper regulation. The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, will meet her opposite number Harriet Harman to try to agree a joint way forward. In the Commons, Mr Cameron warned newspapers the status quo could not continue, and said he wanted to end up with an "independent regulatory system that can deliver".
"This Government set up Leveson because of unacceptable practices in parts of the media and because of a failed regulatory system," he said. "I think we should try to work across party lines on this issue. What matters most, I believe, is that we end up with an independent regulatory system that can deliver and in which the public have confidence."
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, welcomed Mr Cameron's commitment to consensus. He told MPs: "I hope we can work on an all-party basis. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for real change and I hope that this House can make it happen."
The Tory MP Philip Davies said statutory regulation of the press was a straight choice, with no third-way alternative. He said: "Can I warn you not to be remembered as the Prime Minister who introduced state regulation of the press. A free press is an essential part of a free democracy."
Mr Cameron replied: "I would agree a free press is absolutely vital to democracy. We should recognise all the press has done and should continue doing to uncover wrongdoing, to stand up to the powerful. This is vitally important. Whatever the changes we make, we want a robust and free press."
Ahead of today's publication, The Spectator said in a leading article that it would accept contractually binding self-regulation but would not sign up to anything "enforced by government". "If such a group is constituted we will not attend its meetings, pay its fines nor heed its menaces. We would still obey the [other] laws of the land. But to join any scheme which subordinates press to Parliament would be a betrayal of what this paper has stood for since its inception in 1828," it said.
In his first intervention on the issue, News International's chief executive, who was brought in after Rebekah Brooks quit, also warned against statutory regulation. Tom Mockridge said "fundamental" reform of media regulation was needed but that hacking victims should not be able to determine how it was done. "There is a strong view across the industry and outside it that the previous structure wasn't fully effective," he said. "But you still do not cross the Rubicon. Once the state intervenes, the state intervenes."
The Metropolitan Police has been formally warned to expect criticism in Lord Leveson's findings. The force was reported last night to have received one of the inquiry's "rule 13 letters" for its handling of the phone-hacking scandal and its relations with the media.