Chris Huhne has resigned as energy secretary after being charged with perverting the course of justice. He was formally accused on Friday of getting his now-estranged wife Vicky Pryce to accept points for speeding on his behalf. Pryce faces the same charge.
The couple - who are in the process of getting divorced - will appear before Crown court on the 16th of February.
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer told a news conference on Friday morning: "We have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against both Mr Huhne and Ms Pryce for perverting the court of justice." He urged journalists to ensure that both Huhne and Pryce received a fair trial.
Chris Huhne has always denied any wrongdoing in connection with these accusations, which have formed the basis of a long-running probe by Essex Police. His resignation from the Cabinet has triggered a mini-reshuffle among ministers, with another Lib Dem, Ed Davey, moved into the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
Nick Clegg's close adviser Norman Lamb has filled behind Davey in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Cardiff Central MP Jenny Willott becomes an assistant whip.
Mr Davey's promotion maintains the agreed proportion of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats around the Cabinet table fixed in the 2010 coalition negotiations.
But some Lib Dems will rue the departure of one of their hardest-hitting ministers, who was ready to stand up to Conservatives in Cabinet.
In a statement on Friday morning Huhne told reporters: “The Crown Prosecution Service’s decision today is deeply regrettable. I’m innocent of these charges and I intend to fight this in the courts and I’m confident that a jury will agree.
“So as to avoid any distraction to either my official duties or my trial defence, I am standing down and resigning as Energy and Climate Change Secretary. I will of course continue to serve my constituents in Eastleigh.”
In his resignation to the Prime Minister, Huhne wrote: "It has been an honour to negotiate and then serve in the first coalition government of modern times which has substantial achievements both in reducing the economic dangers faced by our country, and in making progress with policies to tackle climate change and provide energy security."
David Cameron replied: "I believe you have made the right decision under the circumstances. You have made a very significant contribution to the Government, of which you can be justly proud."
Chris Huhne has said he will remain an MP during the criminal proceedings.
In a statement, Ms Pryce, an economist, told the BBC she hoped for a "quick resolution" to the case.
"As the CPS have decided to prosecute it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage. Obviously I hope for a quick resolution of the case," she said.
"In the meantime I will be taking a little time off over the next few days to be with my family."
The charges relate to an incident on the M11 in Essex on the 12th of March 2003, when Huhne's car was caught speeding. Essex Police said they were initially unable to open an investigation following newspaper reports, because their database didn't go back to 2003. They later launched an inquiry at the behest of a Labour MP when a recording of Huhne discussing the alleged speeding emerged last summer.
Perverting the couse of justice is a serious criminal offence which on conviction regularly leads to a jail sentence. It was considered politically impossible for him to remain in Cabinet while facing such charges. Nick Clegg suggested as much in January.
Chris Huhne was elected to Parliament in 2005 and narrowly lost the Lib Dem leadership contest to Nick Clegg in 2007. He held several frontbench spokesman positions when the Lib Dems were in opposition, including home affairs and Treasury. When the coalition was formed in 2010 he became energy secretary, but only a month after the election his affair with Carina Trimingham was revealed and he separated from Vicky Pryce three months later.
Allegations that Huhne allowed someone close to him to take the speeding points were published in May of last year in two Sunday newspapers. Emails between Vicky Pryce and the political editor of the Sunday Times, Isabel Oakeshott, were handed to police last month, after the Sunday Times dropped an appeal against being ordered to disclose them.
The long-running police probe and accompanying news reports have made Chris Huhne's job particularly challenging. Despite revealing several key green policies in recent months, the press attention has largely been focused on his infidelity, marriage and alleged criminality.
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