Huhne's career on a knife-edge as he resigns to fight charges

Cabinet minister and ex-wife face jail time if it is proved that they perverted the course of justice

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:14 ON Fri 3 Feb 2012

LIB DEM leader Nick Clegg is going for damage limitation after Chris Huhne resigned from the Cabinet this morning to fight to clear his name. Clegg was expected to make only a limited reshuffle, appointing boring Ed Davey to replace Huhne as Energy Secretary and promoting his own baggage carrier, Norman Lamb, to take Davey's junior ministerial position.

Clegg was at a Lib Dem away day in Eastbourne watching on television when the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, announced earlier that there was enough evidence to charge both Huhne and and his ex-wife, Vicky Pryce, for perverting the course of justice. They will appear in court on 16 February.

Huhne is accused of asking Pryce to take penalty points his behalf in 2003 after his car was caught on camera speeding from Stansted Airport. Both Clegg and David Cameron were clear that Huhne had to go, and go fast.

Huhne broke up with Pryce after an affair with one of his aides, Carina Trimmingham. Like a woman scorned, it was Pryce who leaked to The Sunday Times's political editor Isabel Oakeshott – a member of the Lib Dem Oakeshott dynasty – by email that she had been asked to make the swap to avoid Huhne facing a driving ban.

The wronged wife is now in the extraordinary position of being prosecuted and being the main prosecution witness. Both Huhne and his former wife face jail time if they are found guilty. Perverting the course of justice typically carries a prison sentence of two years-plus.

The prosecution became inevitable after The Sunday Times was forced last month to give up the e-mails between Pryce and Oakeshott.

Huhne announced his resignation shortly before 11 am. He said the decision to prosecute weas "deeply regrettable" .

"I am innocent of these charges and I intend to fight them in the courts and I am confident a jury will agree. To avoid any distraction to my official duties or my trial defence I am standing down as secretary of state for energy and climate change.

"I will of course continue to serve my constituents in Eastleigh [Hampshire]."

The results of the reshuffle will leave some Lib Dems cheesed off that they have been overlooked.

Clegg had made it clear he wanted David Laws to return to the Cabinet, but he is still regarded as a liability because he was the first minister to quit the Coalition Government over allegations of fiddling his MP expenses.

 Sarah Teather, a junior education minister, is regarded as one of the brightest stars in the Lib Dem party, and a good speaker on the BBC's Question Time, but suffers from being nicknamed the 'chipmunk' because of her size.

As for Huhne, his political career is on a knife-edge. The DPP said both Huhne and Pryce deserved a fair trial – a clear warning to the press to lay off – but Huhne, a former journalist who made a quick fortune in the City, is regarded as arrogant by those who know him, and has made plenty of enemies. He will find even fewer friends now. · 

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if huhne denies driving his car on the date in question its only reasonable to ask --- who was? he is surely involved in a conspiracy if he refuses to cooperate!
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