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PM pulls plug on press reform talks
David Cameron has infuriated campaigners for statutory press regulation by walking away from cross-party talks on the implementation of last year's Leveson Report.
In a move which surprised both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, the Prime Minister announced he would publish the text of a proposed Royal Charter to underpin a new self-regulatory system, which will be put to a vote in the House of Commons on Monday.
Mr Cameron said this was "the fastest possible way" to deliver "the toughest press regulation that this country has ever seen".
The decision to press ahead with a Royal Charter was welcomed by representatives of some of the UK's biggest newspaper groups, who said they shared the PM's frustration at the cross-party talks being "hijacked" by advocates of legislation.
But the Hacked Off campaign, which is calling for full implementation of Leveson's recommendation of a regulatory system underpinned by statute, denounced the move as "a shameless betrayal of victims of press abuse". And Mr Miliband said that the PM had made an "historic mistake" which was not in the interests of the victims of press misconduct or of the country.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he was "disappointed" by Mr Cameron's initiative, which came at a time when cross-party talks were making "real progress" towards a compromise solution. Political parties needed to set aside "narrow self-interest" to get the right outcome, he said.
Both the Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders made clear they wanted to work with Conservative MPs ahead of Monday's vote, when Mr Cameron faces the real prospect of defeat.
Even if he manages to force his amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill through the Commons, he would then have to secure a majority in the House of Lords, where peers have shown themselves to be more open to the option of legislation.
It is understood the amendment will not establish the new regulator in law, but will provide for "exemplary damages" to be imposed on newspapers which fail to sign up to the system and then get into trouble in the courts.
After talks between the three party leaders on Wednesday, Mr Cameron informed Mr Clegg and Mr Miliband of his decision to pull the plug on the process in a conference call. At a hastily-arranged press conference at 10 Downing Street, the PM said the talks had "concluded without agreement" and made clear that he would not "cross the Rubicon" of legislation which might impact on press freedom.