Last year, Huhne and his former wife, Vicky Pryce, were charged over incidents dating back to March and May 2003 where Huhne’s car was spotted committing speeding offences near Stanstead Airport. It was alleged that the couple then lied to the police, as Pryce had claimed she was driving the car – and thus took the penalty points – to avoid Huhne being prosecuted.
Despite standing down as energy and climate change secretary last year, Huhne had continued to maintain his innocence, pleading not guilty to the charges and vowing to fight them.
However, it is believed he phoned Nick Clegg last night to inform him that he would be changing his plea on the first day of his trial and that he would thus be stepping down as an MP.
It all but ends Huhne’s brief career in politics, with the former cabinet minister extremely likely to face time in jail – usually around six to twelve months for this type of crime.
It will be a bitter blow to the Liberal Democrats, as Huhne was not only one of their major players – merely a few votes from securing the party leadership in 2007 – but one who was also willing to take on the Tories in the increasingly fractious coalition.
Indeed, the resignation will only serve to pit the coalition partners against each other by plunging Eastleigh into a by-election. With Huhne’s majority from the 2010 general election as small as 3,864 votes and David Cameron targeting it as a constituency for the taking, it looks to be a hotly-fought and divisive contest between the Conservatives and Lib Dems in the marginal seat. UKIP’s Nigel Farage is also believed to be considering running; it was a seat he once stood for in 1994.
With Eastleigh known as a seat to throw up surprising results, it looks set to be an interesting few months for the constituency and the coalition.