Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has told Energy Secretary Chris Huhne to stay at the international climate change talks in Cancun, even though his absence will cost the Government a vote in the crucial Commons division on tuition fees.
Sources close to Mr Clegg said the Liberal Democrat leader had decided that Mr Huhne’s role in the latest round of talks on beating global warming is too important for him to be pulled out of the summit.
The decision came after Labour refused to offer a “pair” for Mr Huhne who would also miss the university funding vote, so they cancelled one another out.
Climate change campaigners begged both Mr Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband to make arrangements for the Energy Secretary to remain, because of the vital role he had been given by the Mexican hosts in leading discussions on the fate of the earlier Kyoto Protocol.
Mr Clegg decided that the long-term interests of the planet should take priority over the Government’s potential difficulties in Thursday’s vote, said the source.
And Mr Huhne said: “Nick Clegg and I have decided the importance of the talks in Cancun mean that I have to stay here to finish the vital work we have started.
“It is hugely regrettable that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party has decided to put short-term political point scoring ahead of the long-term interests of the planet. They are putting the next two days ahead of the next two generations.
“These vital talks have denied me the chance to support the coalition Government’s progressive proposals to give financial security to our world class universities sector and make the repayment system for students fairer.”
Labour insisted that all of its MPs want to attend the division to vote against the Government’s plans to treble the maximum annual tuition fee to £9,000. They said that Mr Huhne could be paired with a rebel Liberal Democrat backbencher.
Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood, who is also in Cancun, has said he would have voted against the fees package if he were able to attend the Commons.