LONDON — Britain’s coalition government suffered a setback Friday with the resignation of the country’s energy secretary after prosecutors accused him of lying about a driving offense in 2003 and “perverting the course of justice.”
Chris Huhne, a key Liberal Democrat, will be replaced by Ed Davey, a junior treasury minister from his party.
Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, appeared on television Friday morning to say that after considering material on the allegations from a newspaper source, “we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against both Mr. Huhne and Ms. Pryce (Huhne’s former wife, Vicky Pryce) for perverting the course of justice.
“The essence of the charges is that between March and May 2003 Mr. Huhne having allegedly committed a speeding offense falsely informed the investigating authorities that Ms. Pryce was the driver of the vehicle in question and she falsely accepted that she was the driver.”
Both Huhne and Pryce, an economist, will appear in court in two weeks to answer the charges that have been the basis of much recent behind-the-scenes discussions in political circles.
In a short but defiant resignation speech, Huhne denied the accusation, saying the Crown Prosecution’s decision “is deeply regrettable. I am innocent of these charges and I intend to fight this in the courts and I am confident that a jury will agree.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a fellow Liberal Democrat, praised Huhne as a pioneer of “ground-breaking” environmental policies and said that “if he clears his name as he wishes to, I have made it clear to him that I would like to see him back in government in a key position.”
Huhne, known as a feisty and often controversial cabinet minister, was appreciated more by rank-and-file Liberal Democrats than his colleagues in the cabinet and Parliament. Described as politically ambitious, he supervised a major overhaul of Britain’s energy infrastructure and investment in renewable energy and pledged to halve British carbon emissions by 50 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2025.
On several occasions he stood up to ministers from the coalition’s dominant Conservative Party, facing down cost-cutting Chancellor George Osborne to push through tough environmental measures. He also opposed Conservatives on other policy issues, such as the Liberal Democrat-backed referendum for an alternative voting system, a measure that eventually failed.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron left it to Clegg to announce Huhne’s successor. “I think Chris Huhne has made the right decision,” Cameron said in televised remarks.
Huhne was the second Liberal Democrat to exit the cabinet under a cloud. David Laws resigned as chief secretary to the Treasury in May 2010 soon after taking office over reports that he wrongly claimed rental expenses for his partner.