A Lib Dem minister today threatens to open up the first significant split within the ruling coalition, by urging his Conservative partners to ditch EU allies once dismissed as "a bunch of nutters, anti-Semites and homophobes" by Nick Clegg.
On the eve of David Cameron's first European summit, Chris Huhne ventures into the bitter row over Tory links with a controversial collection of far-right MEPs from Eastern Europe. In an Independent on Sunday interview, the Energy Secretary said the Tories should leave the European Conservatives and Reformists grouping and return to the mainstream European People's Party (EPP), which they quit last year. Mr Huhne, a former MEP, says: "I'm very willing to give them unsolicited advice – I would urge them to rejoin the EPP. But I'm not going to stick my nose in."
The intervention comes at a particularly unwelcome moment for the Prime Minister, as he prepares for his first EU summit. There are Foreign Office and coalition jitters over the summit, which will discuss moves to prevent another Greek-style debt crisis. Fourteen of the 27 EU leaders, including Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, are EPP members and will attend an eve-of-summit dinner this Wednesday at which it is feared talks will be "stitched up" in Mr Cameron's absence.
In a separate problem for coalition harmony, Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Business Secretary, has put his name to a hard-hitting Which? report, published today, which threatens to undermine Chancellor George Osborne's agenda. The Future of Banking Commission, chaired by David Davis, calls for banks to be broken up and a GMC-style standards body with powers to strike off bankers.