Nick Clegg 'shocked' as Chris Huhne quits after guilty plea

Chris Huhne, announced his resignation outside court Chris Huhne has been an MP since 2005

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Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said he was "shocked and saddened" after Chris Huhne pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice and quit as an MP.

Mr Clegg said the man he beat to the Lib Dem leadership in 2007 had done the right thing by deciding to step down.

Huhne admitted charges against him over claims his ex-wife Vicky Pryce took speeding points for him a decade ago.

A by-election is now expected in his seat of Eastleigh in Hampshire, where he has a majority of nearly 4,000.

Huhne, 58, resigned from his cabinet job as energy and climate change secretary after he was charged a year ago, but had stayed on as Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh.

He had denied the allegations throughout the process, but he telephoned Mr Clegg last night to tell him of his decision to plead guilty and to stand down from Parliament.

'Taken responsibility'

Mr Clegg said it was "an extremely serious matter" and the legal process should be allowed to run its course.

He said: "I am shocked and saddened by what's happened, but I believe that Chris Huhne has taken the right decision in resigning as an MP."

In a statement outside court following his guilty plea, Huhne said: "Having taken responsibility for something that happened 10 years ago, the only proper course of action for me is to resign my Eastleigh seat in Parliament, which I will do shortly."

Huhne also intends to remove himself voluntarily from the Privy Council, the Liberal Democrats said.

Start Quote

Some Lib Dems say Huhne should not be written off. They talk of comebacks. Maybe. But one thing is certain: trust in British public life took a hit today. Voters often say politicians lie. Today they were right.”

End Quote

The prime minister's official spokesman declined to comment on the former minister's resignation, saying only: "It is a matter for Mr Huhne."

The charge relates to an incident in March 2003 when Huhne's car was allegedly caught by a speed camera on the motorway between Stansted Airport in Essex and London.

It is alleged that between 12 March and 21 May 2003, Ms Pryce, 60, from Clapham in south London, falsely informed police that she was the driver of the car so Huhne could avoid prosecution.

BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said it was a serious offence which was invariably punished by a prison sentence - usually about six months to a year in this kind of case.

Fellow Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt said she was "absolutely stunned" by the news, but insisted Huhne had been a "fantastic constituency MP".

Huhne, a former financial journalist and MEP, has been the MP for Eastleigh since 2005.

At the last election, he held the seat with a majority of 3,864. The Conservatives came second, with Labour in third and the UK Independence Party in fourth.

Farage to stand?

This will be the first by-election in a Liberal Democrat held seat since the party joined the Conservatives in a coalition government.

The leader of the UK Independence Party Nigel Farage says he will decide within the next 24 to 48 hours whether to stand in the by-election.

Mr Farage said he was "ruling nothing in and ruling nothing out", adding that he was "dubious but thoughtful" over whether he should stand.

Nick Clegg: ''Chris Huhne has taken the right decision in resigning as an MP''

Eastleigh had a habit of throwing up surprise by-election results, he added, and if he stood it could be a huge publicity boost for his party.

The BBC's political correspondent Robin Brant said that while UKIP would be putting a lot of time and resources into the campaign, he understood that Mr Farage was unlikely to be their candidate.

Liberal Democrat leader of Eastleigh Borough Council Keith House said he was "very, very sad" to learn of Huhne's resignation.

"He has been a hard-working MP for Eastleigh for the last eight years and has built up a reputation for hard work, both locally and nationally.

"The Liberal Democrats have a solid base in Eastleigh. They have won every election here for eight years and we will go forward."

Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who first asked Essex Police to re-investigate the case, said: "None of us are above the law, including ministers, but I do have some sympathy for Chris Huhne in that I wouldn't have wished his political career to be ruined in this way."

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