Nick Clegg is facing fresh pressure over university tuition fees after it emerged the Liberal Democrats drew up plans two months before the general election to abandon a pledge to scrap them as part of any coalition deal.
A confidential document drawn up in March by a senior team planning for possible negotiations concluded that insisting on the move – which was opposed by the Tories and Labour – would be a “headache”.
It is detailed in a new book about the formation of the Tory-Lib Dem administration by Conservative MP Rob Wilson, extracts of which are published by the Guardian.
Mr Clegg, now Deputy Prime Minister, admitted this week that he “should have been more careful” when he signed a pre-election pledge to oppose a rise in tuition fees.
He made a similar promise in a video message in April to the National Union of Students conference, but the Government is now allowing fees to rise to up to £9,000 a year to compensate for spending cuts.
The negotiating document, dated March 16 and marked “confidential”, was prepared by a team led by Danny Alexander, then Mr Clegg’s chief of staff and now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
He wrote: “On tuition fees, we should seek agreement on part-time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches.”
The Liberal Democrats said the document was a recognition of the reality of negotiating with two parties that were diametrically opposed to the policy to scrap any rise in fees. Protection for part-time students was achieved, a party source added.
In a statement, the Lib Dems said: “These are selective extracts of documents which discussed a range of options ahead of any possible negotiations. As the Liberal Democrats made clear throughout the election and in negotiations, they had four key priorities which were set out on the front page of the manifesto. All of these priorities were agreed in the coalition document.”
Mr Clegg said on Thursday that he had “really thought” the pledge not to raise fees was realistic, but added: “I just didn’t know, of course, before we came into government, quite what the state of the finances were.”