Ex-wife Vicky Pryce also charged with perverting the course of justice for allegedly accepting penalty points for Mr Huhne’s speeding offence

Pair will appear before magistrates on February 16

Announcement made by Director of Public Prosecutions live on television

Offence typically carries a prison sentence of more than two years

Chris Huhne’s political career was in freefall this morning when he was forced to resign as Energy Secretary after being charged with a criminal offence over claims he persuaded his ex-wife to take his speeding points.

In a dramatic move the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Minister and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce would both be charged with perverting the course of justice – an offence that typically carries a prison sentence of more than two years.
In response Mr Huhne quit his role as Energy and Climate Change Secretary in order to fight to clear his name over the allegations, which he denies.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have already drawn up plans for an emergency reshuffle, with Lib Dem trade minister Ed Davey tipped to take his job.

The charges follow a bitter feud between the couple, who split up in 2010 when Mr Huhne left his wife for his former aide Carina Trimingham.

They relate to claims that he persuaded her to take penalty points for him in order to avoid a driving ban after being caught speeding on the M11 in Essex in May 2003.

The Liberal Democrat politician and his ex-wife Miss Pryce were told of the decision only minutes beforehand.

This morning, he called the charge ‘deeply regrettable’ and said: ‘I am innocent of the charge and intend to fight this in the courts.
‘So it doesn’t become a distraction I am standing down and resigning as Energy and Climate Minister. I will continue to serve my constituents in Eastleigh.’

Senior government sources revealed that, following discussions with David Cameron, Mr Clegg has made clear to Mr Huhne that he cannot stay in the Cabinet if he faces prosecution.

As the Mail revealed last week, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood also ruled that the Energy Secretary would have to quit for the good of the Government.

That torpedoed an attempt by friends of Mr Huhne, who vehemently denies the charges, to suggest he would not have to quit to defend himself.

Last night Employment Minister Ed Davey was being lined up to replace Mr Huhne in the Cabinet, with Lib Dem MP and senior Clegg aide Norman Lamb expected to take over his post at the Department of Business.

Mr Cameron will today go ahead with a trip to the South West after agreeing the details of the reshuffle with Mr Clegg.
The Director of Public Prosecutions is facing huge pressure to let a jury decide if there has been a criminal cover-up.

Essex Police have been collecting evidence about the case against Mr Huhne, 57, who is accused of dodging a driving ban by making his ex-wife take penalty points when he was caught speeding on the M11 in 2003.

A fortnight ago, police were handed a cache of more than 100 emails from Miss Pryce after winning a court battle to get the evidence from a newspaper.

Detectives have also analysed a tape recording between Miss Pryce and Mr Huhne during which they discuss the allegations, a sworn affidavit which Miss Pryce made to the Sunday Times confirming her claims, and text messages between Mr Huhne and his son Peter in which they discuss the case.

In an interview with the Commons House Magazine released last night, Mr Clegg gave only lukewarm support to Mr Huhne. He said: ‘I’ve no idea what the CPS is going to do. Chris has no idea. I don’t have a crystal ball. All I can tell you is that he has made it very clear to me privately and he’s said it publicly that he denies any kind of wrongdoing.’

Mr Clegg also praised David Laws, who resigned from the Government over his expenses in 2010, indicating he wants him to take a second-tier job in the Cabinet Office, which oversees other departments.

‘I think he’s got an ability to see the connections between policies which is quite unusual,’ he said.

The alleged incident dates back nearly a decade, but only emerged after Mr Huhne admitted an affair with PR adviser Carina Trimingham in 2010 and ended his marriage.

The Sunday Times reported that he had allegedly been caught by a speed camera on March 12 2003.

He has consistently denied claims that he was the one behind the wheel and that Miss Pryce admitted the offence because he would have faced a ban if he collected any more penalty points.

Mr Huhne is alleged to have been returning from Stansted Airport to his home in Clapham, south London, on the day in question, having flown in from Strasbourg, where the European Parliament sits.

Images have since emerged of Miss Pryce’s driving licence, indicating that she received three points for a speeding offence in the Essex area on March 12 2003.

However, she is believed to have later said she was actually at an event in London that day.

Essex police started an investigation when it was claimed in a Sunday Times interview with Ms Pryce last May that her ex-husband asked ‘someone’ to take speeding points on his behalf.

It later emerged that she was apparently the ‘someone’ concerned.

The newspaper interview followed the couple’s split, when Mr Huhne announced he was leaving Miss Pryce for Ms Trimingham.
Mr Huhne and Miss Pryce had been married for 26 years and had three children and two stepchildren together.

After the allegations surfaced, the Eastleigh MP said the claims were ‘simply incorrect’ and had previously ‘been shown to be untrue’.

Both Mr Huhne and Miss Pryce were interviewed by detectives before the case was handed to the CPS.

Both Mr Huhne’s Lib Dem and Tory colleagues have expressed support for his remaining in post during the investigation.

The CPS decision was delayed by a court battle to obtain key emails from the Sunday Times, believed to be between its political editor and Ms Pryce.

The newspaper finally handed over the documents at the end of last month.