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Huhne 'must forfeit severance pay'

Chris Huhne faces pressure to decline a £17,000-plus severance payment available to him after he quit his job as a Cabinet minister to fight a criminal charge of perverting the course of justice.

As he faced a first day out of office, the wealthy Liberal Democrat politician gave no immediate indication on whether he would accept calls for him forego the taxpayer-funded financial help.

In a dramatic day at Westminster, Huhne announced he was resigning as Energy Secretary to mount a "robust defence" of claims he persuaded his then wife to take his penalty points for a speeding offence in 2003.

The MP for Eastleigh and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce, who faces the same charge, will appear before Westminster Magistrates Court on February 16. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The sudden departure forced a mini-reshuffle of Lib Dem ministers, with Ed Davey promoted to the Cabinet in Huhne's place and Mr Davey's business minister role taken by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's chief political adviser Norman Lamb.

Mr Clegg expressed hope that his former leadership rival, and one of the party's most prominent figures, would quickly prove his innocence and "return to play a key role in government". Prime Minister David Cameron made no mention of a possible return in his own letter accepting Huhne's resignation though, saying only that he was sorry to see him leave "under these circumstances".

Announcing his resignation in a 30-second statement outside his London home, Huhne, 57, described the Crown Prosecution Service's decision to press charges as "deeply regrettable". "I am innocent of these charges and I intend to fight this in the courts and I am confident that a jury will agree," he said. Pryce, a prominent economist, told the BBC she hoped for a "quick resolution" to the case.

Labour led demands for Mr Huhne not to take the severance payment of three months' ministerial pay - a total of £17,207 - but he is also bound to face serious pressure from within his own party.

Opposition MP Chris Evans said the Lib Dem had shared a platform with Tory co-chairman Baroness Warsi in 2010 when she urged Gordon Brown's ministers to decline their rights under the 1991 Ministerial and Other Pensions and Salaries Act. "If he didn't agree with her, he should have said so - so he should now forfeit the £17,207 he is entitled to.

Asked whether Mr Huhne would be taking his payoff, Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said: "That's a matter for him." A Liberal Democrat spokesman said he was not aware of any decision having yet been made.


From Belfast Telegraph