THE relationship between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats has “hit a new low”, the Deputy Prime Minister has said, as he demanded an apology for Tory claims that his party has “put children at risk” by blocking controversial security laws.
Nick Clegg yesterday angrily hit out at claims made by Home Secretary Theresa May in her conference speech this week.
It is understood there were angry exchanges between the two parties in a Cabinet meeting in Downing Street following Mrs May’s speech this week.
In her address to activists, the Home Secretary said the inability of police and intelligence services to monitor internet and phone use was creating a “crisis in national security”.
Mrs May said the National Crime Agency had been forced to drop at least 20 cases because of missing communications data, including 13 “threat-to-life cases” involving children.
Accusing the Lib Dems of being “outrageously irresponsible” for blocking the legislation, she indicated a future Conservative government would introduce the measures.
But speaking on his weekly LBC radio phone-in yesterday, Mr Clegg accused his Cabinet colleague of “appalling” behaviour, suggesting she was the one putting children at risk.
He said: “This a new low point in coalition relations. The reason the National Crime Agency had to drop come of these cases was because IP addresses were not properly matched to individual mobile devices. I have been saying for months that that is a problem we should deal with, and guess who has been dragging their feet to do something about it? – the Home Office.”
The Lib Dems blocked a “snooper’s charter” bill in 2012. The bill would have seen internet service providers store all Britons’ web browsing history and details of messages sent on social media, voice calls over the internet and gaming, in addition to emails and phone calls.
He went on: “I am entitled to be a little bit aggrieved to hear a Conservative Home Secretary somehow claiming that my party is putting children at risk when it is their inactivity that is doing just that. I have made it very, very clear to her that I expect an apology from her for making such a false and outrageous claim.”
A source close to Mrs May repeated the accusation that the Lib Dems were putting children at risk by blocking such laws.
They said: “It’s interesting to see how the Lib Dems react to the logic of their position being aired in public but the truth is that they are putting lives at risk right now. If they want to do something about that, they can start talking to us about returning to the Communications Data Bill that Nick Clegg first torpedoed two years ago.”
It is understood that Mr Clegg is also seething about a vow Prime Minister David Cameron made in his speech on Wednesday to drop the Human Rights Act, with one Lib Dem source last night saying such a move would be “completely unacceptable” to the party.
Despite that view, Lib Dem schools minister David Laws refused to rule out another coalition deal with the Conservatives next May.