Nick Clegg tonight told his MPs not to back the Tories in Parliamentary vote calling for Jeremy Hunt to be referred to the ministerial standards watchdog.
Labour will tomorrow submit a motion in the House of Commons calling for Mr Hunt to face an investigation by Sir Alex Allen, the Prime Minister’s adviser on ministers’ interests, following criticism over his handling of the BSkyB takeover.
Mr Clegg’s aides said he had taken the decision not to back his coalition partners after “repeatedly” telling David Cameron that Mr Hunt should face an inquiry by Sir Alex.
“The decision not to refer Jeremy Hunt to Sir Alex was taken within minutes of him giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry and it is not one which either Nick of the Liberal Democrats can endorse,” said a Lib Dem source.
“Nick has told Cameron repeatedly and as recently as yesterday that Mr Hunt still has questions to answer in relation to the ministerial code and we believe it is the wrong decision for him not to have to answer those questions.”
While the Government is expected to survive the vote without the Lib Dems they will have a much reduced majority.
It is still possible that some Lib Dem MPs might go further and back the Labour motion but senior Liberal Democrats said they were confidence that the majority would obstain.
“Nick laid out his proposal to the Parliamentary Party and asked for their views,” said a party source.
“No-one came forward to say they wanted to vote with Labour and we expect the vast majority just to stay away.”
The only time the Lib Dems have previously abstained on an opposition motion was on DUP motion praising Mr Cameron's decision to use the veto at last December’s EU summit.