The PM told hacks travelling on the plane with him to Japan:
You’ve got to remember that this was a national security council where sitting round the table was Chris Huhne, Nick Clegg, Ken Clarke – people from impeccable civil libertarian backgrounds.
It was an obvious fact, but it was also a none-too-subtle dig at the Liberal Democrats, many of whom have expressed concern about the plans on grounds of protecting civil liberties.
Clegg could have ignored it, or simply said when asked, that while it was true that he had been at the meeting of the National Security Council where these plans were discussed, no formal proposals had yet been made.
But his response was much stronger than that. An adviser sent round a statement saying:
The deputy prime minister agreed at the NSC that the government would look at proposals to address the police’s technological gap to deal with serious criminals and terrorists. But he also made clear that they could only proceed if they took into account and protected civil liberties.
Clegg’s team insist he is not irritated with Cameron’s briefing: after all it is true that the DPM was at the NSC meeting. But the response is a signal of how much grief the leadership has come under from its own MPs after the plans were leaked to the Sunday Times two weeks ago.
Tim Farron, the popular Lib Dem party president, who is often talked of as a future party leader, was highly visible over the weekend, making clear his opposition to the plans as they have been leaked:
We are prepared to kill [the plans], be absolutely clear about that, if it comes down to it.
If we think this is a threat to a free and liberal society then there would be no question of unpicking them or compromising, this just simply must not happen.
Perhaps it is no surprise then that Clegg was quick to quash any talk of him having done a secret deal with the PM to get these plans through.