The Tories and Liberal Democrats edged closer to a deal on coalition formation that would see David Cameron enter Downing Street, even as reports emerged that Premier Gordon Brown had launched a last minute bid to woo kingmaker Nick Clegg to “throw a spanner into the works."
Mr. Cameron appeared confident of winning Lib Dem leader Mr. Clegg’s support after continued negotiations last night for a belt-tightening economic plan to shore up international confidence in Britain.
But though the Lib Dem leader had promised to talk to the Tories first about a power-sharing agreement, details emerged of a clandestine meeting between him and Mr. Brown in the Foreign Office.
The rendezvous took place just a few hundred yards from the ‘official’ talks between the Tory team and their Lib Dem counterparts.
Quoting Labour sources, The Daily Mail claimed that Mr. Brown was mounting a desperate eleventh hour bid to “throw a spanner into the works” and sabotage the Tory-Lib Dem talks.
The tabloid claimed that Mr. Brown and Mr. Clegg had an hour-long discussion and the Labour leader was said to be attempting to trump Mr. Cameron’s offer by promising to give more on the issue of electoral reform, and to be ready to offer the Lib Dems up to six seats in the Cabinet.
Later Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg met again for 30 minutes.
The horse-trading continued as financial markets were braced for a meltdown as UK was left rudderless, prompting fears that both shares and the pound will take a battering.
The two parties have identified common ground on deficit reduction measures, taxation, civil liberties and the environment but the issue of voting reform -- totemic for the Lib Dems -- remains a significant stumbling block.
Mr. Cameron was warned by Tory Right-wingers not to give too much ground to the Lib Dems or face an open revolt.
Mr. Clegg -- under mounting pressure from his anti-Tory Left wing -- was said to have given himself another 24 hours to try to hammer out a coalition agreement with the Tories, before telling them to form a minority government.
Chancellor Alistair Darling, meanwhile, was powerless to resist an EU deal which could leave taxpayers with a 43 billion pound bill to bail out the failing euro.
Tory and Lib Dem negotiating teams met in the Cabinet Office yesterday for six hours of talks over how to end the political deadlock hanging over Britain following the first hung parliament in 36 years.
During the negotiation, Shadow foreign secretary of Conservative party William Hague and Chris Huhne for the Lib Dems attempted to thrash out a deal that will determine Britain’s future.
The Tories are said to be ready to countenance offering a referendum on changing the electoral system but only after a two-year inquiry and with Tory MPs given a free vote on legislation -- conditions making it unlikely to get through the Commons.
The delegations emerged without finalising an agreement, but in an attempt to reassure the markets, said they had agreed economic stability would be key to any deal.
Because no party won an overall majority, the Prime Minister can remain in his post until he decides to resign, but he is facing open demands from his own party to quit.
Half the Cabinet is understood to have given up hope of clinging to power in a ‘coalition of the losers’, which could include Labour, the Lib Dems, Northern Irish MPs, and Scottish and Welsh Nationalists.
And there are increasing signs that many ministers doubt such a deal would be desirable, even if it could be achieved.