Nick Clegg has told David Cameron he will not take part in this week's major government reshuffle in a sign that the Deputy Prime Minister is putting greater distance between the Coalition parties in the months before the general election.
Sources close to the Lib Dem leader revealed that Mr Clegg would hold his own reshuffle shortly before his party's conference in Glasgow in October. As a result, the shake-up this Tuesday will be confined to Tory MPs and ministers.
The surprise twist leaves Mr Clegg with the option to move Alistair Carmichael as Scottish Secretary after the independence referendum on 18 September. Speculation had been that Mr Carmichael, who was brought in as a more combative figure for the Better Together campaign, would be axed this week in favour of Jo Swinson. Yet this would have been seized on by Alex Salmond and his supporters as an admission of failure.
Other possible ministers who could be moved in the autumn are Ed Davey, the Climate Change Secretary. Mr Clegg is being urged by some allies to sack Business Secretary Vince Cable, who was weakened by the botched coup in May, and Mr Davey could be lined up to replace him.
A Lib Dem source said: "We are under no obligation to be bound to David Cameron's timetable. We have a party conference later this year and at that point we will set out who we will take into the general election."
The moves are part of a concerted effort by Lib Dems for a "conscious uncoupling" from their Conservative Coalition partners. Mr Clegg is under pressure to leave Mr Cameron's side during Prime Minister's Questions and get out campaigning instead. The Lib Dem blogger Stephen Tall said: "Focus groups show the public is baffled why Nick Clegg simply sits next to David Cameron without ever speaking at Prime Minister's Questions. To them, he appears mute, powerless, sidelined. The time could be much better used."