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Clegg and Cameron at odds over Hunt
Nick Clegg has laid bare a major coalition rift by revealing that he wants David Cameron to launch a sleaze probe into Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's handling of the BSkyB bid.
The Liberal Democrat leader has repeatedly told Mr Cameron that the independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, should be brought in to consider the case.
The behind-the-scenes clash emerged as Mr Clegg signalled that his MPs will abstain in a vote being forced by Labour on the issue on Wednesday.
The Commons motion calls for Sir Alex to investigate whether Tory Mr Hunt misled Parliament and failed to take responsibility for his special adviser Adam Smith, who resigned after admitting his contacts with News Corporation had been too close.
The Lib Dem decision was said to have received "unanimous support" at a meeting of the parliamentary party on Tuesday night. Mr Clegg gave the news to Mr Cameron when they met earlier, according to a senior party source.
"I don't think the Prime Minister was pleased about it," the source said. "The decision not to refer it to Sir Alex Allan was the Prime Minister's decision, and we respect that. However, it is not a decision that is endorsed by the Liberal Democrats, therefore we don't think we need to endorse it, therefore we won't support it on the floor of the House."
Evidence of the coalition split will intensify pressure on the Prime Minister to call in Sir Alex for an independent assessment of whether the ministerial code was breached. He is already facing accusations of double standards after triggering an investigation into Tory chairman Baroness Warsi, who has admitted failing to declare business links with a relative who accompanied her on an official trip to Pakistan.
Labour leader Ed Miliband could seek to capitalise on the situation when the two men lock horns at Prime Minister's Questions at lunchtime but a senior aide to Mr Cameron played down tensions with the Lib Dems, saying their stance on the Opposition Day debate was "not unexpected".
Lib Dem MP Don Foster said Labour's decision to force a vote was a "stunt". "It's not going to make a blind bit of difference, the Prime Minister's already made his mind up on the issue," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Asked for Mr Cameron's response to the Lib Dem decision to abstain, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "It is a coalition Government and sometimes they choose to vote differently."