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Carmichael pressured in memo row

Published 23/05/2015

Alistair Carmichael is under pressure to resign as an MP due to his role in the leaking of a memo
Alistair Carmichael is under pressure to resign as an MP due to his role in the leaking of a memo

Former Cabinet minister Alistair Carmichael has come under further pressure to quit as an MP after he accepted responsibility for a leaked memo which alleged Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wanted David Cameron to win the general election.

Senior SNP MP Stewart Hosie called for the Westminster standards watchdog to investigate whether Mr Carmichael had broken any rules and said he should "consider very seriously stepping down" from his seat in Westminster.

Mr Carmichael apologised to both Ms Sturgeon and the French ambassador to the UK after a Cabinet Office investigation into the leak concluded he "could and should have stopped the sharing of the memo", and he added that he "accepts responsibility for what occurred".

After the leaked memo appeared in the Daily Telegraph before the election, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood ordered an inquiry into how the note, which claimed Ms Sturgeon told French ambassador Sylvie Bermann that she would prefer to see Conservatives remain in power, got into the public domain.

Mr Hosie, the party's deputy leader at Westminster, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think it means he should consider very seriously stepping down as an MP. "

He added: " This is potentially career-ending precisely because he went into an election suggesting one thing and then we find out - lo and behold, just after the election - it wasn't true."

Mr Carmichael, now Scotland's only Liberal Democrat MP, said that while he had not seen the document before it was published by the Daily Telegraph, he was "aware of its content and agreed that my special adviser (Euan Roddin) should make it public".

Mr Hosie said: "Given the scale of this - a dirty tricks campaign which involved the French Ambassador, the Scottish First Minister - all of which is completely false, bogus, made-up, really he ought to consider very seriously whether he can be even be trusted by his constituents to remain a Member of Parliament."

He added: "I understand a complaint has already been made to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.

"I hope that is investigated fully and thoroughly, not least to find out if Mr Carmichael knew about this being produced and prepared, and if there were any discussions while he was still an MP before it was leaked to the Telegraph."

Neither Mr Carmichael or Mr Roddin will claim the severance pay they were entitled to after losing their jobs at the general election which saw the Lib Dems ejected from office.

The leaked document was written by a British civil servant following a conversation with consul-general Pierre-Alain Coffinier regarding a meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Ms Bermann.

The investigation into the source of the leak found an official mobile phone held by Mr Roddin was used to make calls to one of the journalists involved in the story.

The special adviser confirmed he had provided a copy of the Scotland Office memo to the journalist and discussed it with him, believing it was in the public interest to do so.

Mr Carmichael then confirmed that Mr Roddin had asked for his view on the possibility of sharing the document with the press and that he had agreed this should happen.

Accepting his responsibility for the leak, Orkney and Shetland MP Mr Carmichael said: "I should not have agreed this. It was an error of judgment which I regret. I accept full responsibility for the publication of the document...

"Had I still been a government minister, I would have considered this to be a matter that required my resignation.

"I have therefore informed the Cabinet Secretary that I will decline my ministerial severance payment."

The Liberal Democrats said party officials would not be launching any internal disciplinary proceedings against Mr Carmichael.

"He has given up £17,000 of ministerial severance pay," a spokesman said. "We feel that is sanction enough."

Mr Hosie said there are also questions for Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie to answer.

"Mr Rennie was one of the first to comment on this false story," he said.

"Did the special adviser who gave the incorrect memo to the Telegraph and used his government phone to contact them also call Willie Rennie about it? The telephone records would answer that question.

"And did Alistair Carmichael speak to Willie Rennie, his party leader in Scotland, about it, which seems likely?

"We need to know the answers to these questions - especially now that we know the Lib Dems aren't prepared to take any action at all."

Speaking in Edinburgh today, Ms Sturgeon repeated her calls for Mr Carmichael to "consider his position".

"If he had put his hands up during the election, people going to the polls could have made their own minds up, made their own judgment, but he didn't, and voters in Orkney and Shetland weren't in possession of the full facts when they voted," she said.

"I understand there has been a complaint to the standards commissioner and I think that should be fully investigated in the normal way, but people will draw their own conclusions both in terms of the conduct of Alistair Carmichael and the lack of any action by the Liberal Democrats."

She added: "Is it enough for Willie Rennie to say this is ok for somebody, now very clearly, to have said something during an election campaign that wasn't true.

"I don't think it reflects well on the party that they seem to think that's ok, but that's a matter for Willie Rennie to answer and not for me."

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