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Coalition rocked by AV row: Lib Dem minister in legal threat over Tories’ claims

A senior Liberal Democrat minister has threatened legal action against the ‘No to AV’ campaign as the battle over voting reform for Westminster elections descended into new levels of acrimony.

Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, accused senior Conservatives, including David Cameron, of repeatedly making false claims about the costs of introducing the alternative vote (AV) system.

He warned that the credibility of the Prime Minister and senior colleagues such as Chancellor George Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague would be undermined unless the allegations were withdrawn.

"It is frankly worrying if you have colleagues, who you have respected and who you have worked well with, who are making claims which have no foundation in truth whatsoever. If they don't come clean I am sure the law courts will," he told the BBC.

His incendiary intervention threatened to rock the cohesion of the coalition after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had for the first time attacked Mr Cameron directly, accusing him of "defending the indefensible".

With the polls pointing to a No vote in the referendum — now less than two weeks away on May 5 — there is deepening anger among

Lib Dems, who strongly support AV, at the tactics of the No campaign.

Mr Hague had earlier sought to play down the differences, insisting that the coalition was working well, even though feelings were "running high" over the AV issue.

However, Mr Huhne warned that trust between coalition ministers could be irreparably damaged, making it harder for them to work together in the future.

"It is going to undermine the credibility of colleague ministers — the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary — if they use allegations that have no foundation in truth whatsoever," he said.

"That is not good for the coalition. We have a job to do in the coalition Government to clean up the mess we have inherited at the time of the last election."

Earlier, Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes had threatened to refer the No campaign to the Electoral Commission, but Mr Huhne's intervention raised the prospect of a far more prolonged and damaging court battle.

Mr Huhne particularly picked on a claim by the No campaign that the introduction of AV would require the purchase of expensive vote-counting machines, contributing to the £250m cost of adopting the system.

He said that the allegation was "demonstrably untrue", adding: "This is just nonsense".

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