Leveson: Nick Clegg Could Break Ranks

Leveson: Nick Clegg Could Break Ranks

Nick Clegg has asked whether he might be able to respond separately to the Leveson report in case he and David Cameron cannot agree on the next steps.

Downing Street has now been handed the long-anticipated report and the Prime Minister is due to give his official response tomorrow after it is made public.

But the Lib Dems have already asked the Commons Speaker if Mr Clegg could deliver his own statement, in case the Government is split.

The development came as The Spectator became the first publication to declare it would not abide by any form of press regulation.

In a leader column, the magazine predicted the Prime Minister would be "vilified" whether he backs state involvement or opts for a different form of self-regulation.

And it makes clear: "We would not sign up to anything enforced by government."

It is the first shot across the bows by the press ahead of the report's unveiling on Thursday lunchtime and comes as the Prime Minister is under intense pressure.

He declared at PMQs that "the status quo is unacceptable and needs to change" and vowed to seek a cross-party consensus, although talks will not happen until after his initial statement.

Mr Cameron is caught between the press and many in his own party who are against any form of statutory regulation, and angry hacking victims and campaigners who want a tough line.

At PMQs, he said: "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."

He added later: "I would agree that a free press is absolutely vital to democracy. We should recognise all the press has done and should continue doing to uncover wrong doing, to stand up to the powerful, this is vitally important.

"Whatever the changes we make, we want a robust and free press in our country."

He and Mr Clegg, as well as a handful of officials, are now poring over around half a dozen advance copies of the report and sources have indicated it is extremely long and detailed.

Labour leader Ed Miliband will not receive a copy until 8am on Thursday.

All three main party leaders have indicated they will support Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations as long as they are "proportionate".

But with the judge widely expected to call for a new regulator with statutory underpinning, there are widespread divisions.

More than 80 MPs and peers from all sides have signed a letter warning that any state involvement would undermine free speech.

The signatories include nine former Cabinet ministers, all the Tory members of the Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee, Conservative grandee Lord Tebbit and former House of Commons speaker Baroness Boothroyd.

The Cabinet and wider Tory party are also split and there is speculation Mr Cameron may offer Parliament a free vote.

The latest missive warns against any knee-jerk reaction and highlighted the "dangers of statutory regulation", claiming it would amount to state licensing of the press which was axed in 1695.

But earlier this month, 42 Tory MPs called for tough new laws to keep newspapers in check and campaigners are already sharpening their knives.

Hugh Grant said on Wednesday that it was a "once in a lifetime opportunity" and the moment Mr Cameron had to prove whether he was a "statesman or still a Carlton TV spin doctor".

The actor told Sky News: "More self-regulation would be a disaster. Another chance in the last chance saloon.

"I have faith that Lord Leveson did a good job and will report things that are meaningful. What you have to question more is the courage of our Prime Minister.

"He is in a difficult position. He has the press bearing down on him by one side saying if you enact any kind of meaningful regulation on us, we'll give you a terrible kicking.

"On the other side he has got 80% of the British public, the victims, the Labour party and the Lib Dems who are going to give him a kicking the other way."

Grant warned that action had to be taken now because campaigners would not stand for any more "procrastinating" that will allow the issue just to fade away.

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