Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has declined to rule out Liberal Democrat ministers abstaining in the crucial parliamentary vote on university tuition fees.
Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems are “looking at this as a party”, and pointed to provisions of the coalition agreement with Conservatives allowing the party’s MPs to abstain on the issue.
His comments came as Labour leader Ed Miliband said he was “tempted” to join student protesters on the streets in demonstrations against the proposed rise in fees earlier this week.
Mr Miliband said that although he did not condone violence, the demonstrations were fuelled by “justified” anger about changes which will see maximum fees treble to £9,000 a year.
Much of the student anger has been directed at Liberal Democrats because of the party’s election pledge to scrap fees, and deputy leader Simon Hughes’s London office was targeted for a sit-in on Thursday.
Mr Clegg himself said earlier this week that he “massively regrets” being in a position where he cannot deliver on his election promise.
Newspaper reports suggest that he and Business Secretary Vince Cable may be preparing to abstain in the vote – due before Christmas – in order to take some of the sting out of the issue for their party.
Asked about the possibility of abstentions during a visit in Sheffield, Mr Clegg told the BBC: “We are looking at this as a party.
“In the coalition agreement we were very, very clear that for Liberal Democrat MPs, if they didn’t like the details of the policy, they were able to abstain.”
But he said that more Lib Dems were becoming “comfortable” with the policy as they studied the details of the proposals.