British business minister in threat to quit if pushed

21st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's business minister has privately indicated he could quit and "bring the government down" if he is "pushed too far" in talks with the Conservatives, in remarks published Wednesday.

Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable told undercover reporters from The Daily Telegraph newspaper the situation in the coalition was like "fighting a war" and he could use the "nuclear option" of walking away.

Cable, one of the most high profile and popular members of the government, said that he was "embarrassed" by the remarks but insisted he had no intention of resigning.

While tensions in the coalition emerged in a recent vote to raise university tuition fees -- a measure previously opposed by the Lib Dems -- Cable's comments suggest divisions are opening up at the highest level of government.

They will raise questions over whether the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, formed after inconclusive polls in May, can survive until the planned date of the next general election in May 2015.

During the conversation with the undercover reporters, who were posing as constituents in his southwest London constituency, Cable said the operation of the government was a "constant battle" between the coalition partners.

The minister said he would pick his fights carefully but was clear that he could bring an end to the coalition if he chose to.

"I have a nuclear option; it's like fighting a war. They know I have nuclear weapons, but I don't have any conventional weapons. If they push me too far then I can walk out and bring the government down and they know that," he said.

"So it is a question of how you use that intelligently without getting involved in a war that destroys all of us. That is quite a difficult decision to be in and I am picking my fights."

He also criticised the speed at which the coalition was trying to push through change, and suggested the Lib Dems should be "putting a brake on it."

In a statement late Tuesday, Cable said that he remained committed to the coalition and was not planning to leave.

"Naturally I am embarrassed by these comments and I regret them," he said.

"I have no intention of leaving the government. I am proud of what it is achieving and will continue to play my full part in delivering the priorities I and my party believe in, which are enshrined in the coalition agreement."

The centrist Lib Dems and rightwing Conservatives formed Britain's first coalition since World War II after May's elections, in which the Tories won the most seats in the lower house of parliament but not enough to govern alone.

© 2010 AFP

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