Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accused David Cameron of “party-political point scoring” after talks between the U.K.’s three main parties over a new system of press regulation broke down.
The prime minister spoke to Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, and opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband by phone this morning. The gap between what the parties want is too great, he told a news conference in London. Instead, the Conservatives will introduce amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill due to be debated in Parliament on March 18 to establish a “Royal Charter” backing a system of non-statutory regulation.
Reaching a deal “was always going to be a big task which requires everyone setting aside narrow self-interest in order to work together,” Clegg said in a pooled television interview. “It’s not an issue that I believe should be the subject of party-political point scoring.”
The parties have been split over how to implement the findings of Judge Brian Leveson’s report into media ethics, published last year, with differences over whether to accept its recommendations in full and on passing laws to give backing to a new media regulator.
The Leveson inquiry was set up after the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp.’s now defunct News of the World tabloid, which has led to at least 36 people being arrested. Trinity Mirror Plc’s Sunday Mirror was dragged into the affair today as London police arrested four journalists connected to the newspaper.
The charter will “contain the toughest regulation this country has ever seen,” Cameron told reporters at his Downing Street office. “The route I have set out is the fastest way to what Leveson proposed.” The plans will include “million-pound fines” for newspapers that transgress rules on reporting and “prominent apologies” to victims, he said.
Cameron’s decision to abandon cross-party talks was an “historic mistake,” Miliband said in a statement. The Labour leader also echoed rhetoric that Clegg and Cameron used about working “together in the national interest” when the coalition government was formed in 2010.
“This is about the national interest and we are going to reach out to all of the concerned people, obviously the Liberal Democrats, but also the Conservatives, to say: Let’s construct a workable solution that serves the interest of the victims,” Miliband said. “I still believe that we can do that on a cross-party basis. It may not involve David Cameron, but I’m afraid that is his choice.”