How the leaders reached Leveson deal


A deal. At the 59th minute of the 11th hour. After months of behind-the-scenes talks. After David Cameron went public declaring the gap between the parties to be unbridgeable.

Yesterday David Cameron met Nick Clegg to put a new proposal to him. Clegg then discussed that in three separate phone calls with Ed Miliband. A resumption of the cross-party talks followed involving Oliver Letwin and Harriet Harman. Meetings continued until 2.30am.

If the deal they made holds, there will be endless spin and analysis about who moved and who blinked, but perhaps more significant is that all parties wanted a deal rather than to stand alone and risk the wrath of either the victims of press abuse or of newspapers enraged by regulation.

Lord Justice Leveson's call for a system of voluntary independent self-regulation of the press posed a problem for the politicians - how to make any new system independent enough to satisfy the victims whilst at the same time making it not so independent as to convince the press to walk away and refuse to take part.

Months ago the government proposed that a Royal Charter rather than a legally based system was the key to unlocking a deal. A Royal Charter is, in effect, a letter from the Queen which establishes a public body like the BBC, or the new press regulator, without the need for a new law.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats abandoned their calls for a full new legal framework but, until last night, were demanding full legal underpinning of the charter. They now appear - and we still don't know the full details - to have accepted a watered-down version of that.

The Tories who argued for no press law of any sort now appear to have conceded the need for a legal clause designed to give parliament the assurance that the new press regulator cannot be amended by a minister under pressure from the press without the agreement of MPs.

Although not in the negotiating room, the press were constantly being informed and consulted. Key players, I'm told, were the Telegraph's Lord Black who is the key fix-it man for the industry, Associated Newspapers' Peter Wright, who is the former editor of the Mail on Sunday, the editor of the Times John Witherow and the editor of the FT Lionel Barber.

In the end it seems that politicians in all parties preferred to defuse a political time bomb together rather than face the blame on their own for failing to do so or for it blowing up in their faces.

It has, though, not been entirely defused yet.

UPDATE 1: 7.59am: Harriet Harman has just spelt out how the deal works. It comes in two parts :

1. A regulator established by Royal Charter, not law, which states that it can only be amended if parliament has a two thirds majority

2. A law which does not mention the press or a press regulator, but gives power of law to any Royal Charter that states that two thirds majority of parliament is needed to amend it. There is, of course, only one Charter of this sort - the one establishing a new press regulator!

UPDATE 2: 8.05am: I should make clear that not all those newspaper men I named were called or consulted in the last 24 hours. They were, however, seen as the "go to" figures in the industry in the past few days and months

UPDATE 3: 8.40am: It's all in the name.

The Conservatives are insisting that the deal done overnight rejects so-called "statutory underpinning" of press regulation. They can say this because there will be no new law that mentions either the press or their new regulator. They want to stress this as it is their reassurance to the newspaper industry for whom any so-called press law represents an unacceptable infringement of their rights by the state.

However, Labour will reply that the new Royal Charter establishing the new press regulator does have one small bit of law which underpins it ie a clause to be tabled today which legally enshrines any Charter (in reality, of course, this one) which states that two thirds of Parliament must support any amendment.

Whether someone calls this "legal underpinning" will depend on whether they are backing the Conservative argument or the Lab/Lib Dem one.

UPDATE 4: 10.30am: I understand that a representative of the pressure group Hacked Off was in the room through the night when the deal on press regulation was agreed by all parties last night. Sources are refusing to say who it was but I am told that it was not one of the victims.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    It's good that they seem to have reached a cross-party agreement: that way any press backlash will have to be aimed at all 3 parties. DC and his tory cronies were desperate to ensure the continuing support of certain tabloids: hence all the posturing about how it's not enshrined in law. We all know that no election has been won since 1983 without the support of a certain press baron...

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Let's not overlook the fact that is is Cameron who blinked first and rushed back to the table at the final stage to avoid his split party voting with Labour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    A critical vote tonight, it was never certain which side would win - which side would be left with the losing ticket; egg on their faces.

    Politicans left exposed to the power of the press yet again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    I think debate sometime loses track of the issues. If press break the law (which is what started all this) then the courts deal with that. I cant see what a regulator (established through whatever means) could add to that. Am very wary of political involvement in press regulation. Imagine some future Gov decides it was not in the interests of national security for papers to report on e.g Iraq

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    It is disappointing that the negotiators did not take in a small smoke generating stove with which the bored world could have been told of an agreement. However there was no announcement of when Britain will get a free press. As a character said in a Tom Stoppard play "I have no problem with the free press, it's the papers I worry about".

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    It appears that (as usual) the politicians have put their own self-aggrandisment far in front of the good of the country: all we are hearing about is how they're dancing around each other & who is scoring points off whom, nothing about what they are proposing and why it's such a good idea that it's worth adopting.

    How will the proposals benefit the citizens of the UK? What are they anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    This piece of fudge can only be assessed once we see it in writing. The devil is in the detail. I feel that the newspapers have won and that Joe Public will have a great deal to fear from papers involved in a circulation war. I predict there will be another enquiry in about 10 years when more abuses will be revealed. Police horses will be loaned as usual to the "right" people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    So DC sucked up to the press barons, Clegg caved in yet again and Milliband didn't have the guts to stand up for what's right on his own so we've ended up with a cosy deal made behind closed doors that won't be examined and tested in parliament and the establishment of a method for bringing in laws by the back door via Royal Charters

    Is there any integrity left in British Politics

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I don't understand the complains against cross party consensus, I thought that was precisely what we wanted! What were people looking for? A regulator that has the power to decide what should or should not be published? A censor? Phone hacking is already illegal, we need enforcement of existing laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Probably the best compromise, but bear in mind that Royal Charters are overseen by the Privy Council, typically with 4 attendees.

    The last one was conducted by Nick Clegg (president), Vince Cable, Jonathan Hill and Maria Miller.

    Politically balanced? I think not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Business of 'fooling enough of the people all of the time', just made a little more difficult

    Same forces - personal corruptibility in fear & greed - may taint the selection of 'independent panels' to appoint 'independent' regulators, but there will be 'days in court', & justice extended, & need to escape self-corruption perhaps seen in time to save People & Planet by exemplary call for democracy

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    This morning Harriet Harman said a deal had been reached and the Royal Charter would be safeguarded from unilateral ministerial change by a HoL's legal amendment.
    Less than an hour later Maria Miller said there wasn't a 'done deal' and there was no legal safeguard and Cameron had "Seen off Labour's extreme version,"
    And next Clegg will claim it as a victory for the LibDems..

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Murdoch must be laughing. The man who corrupted parliament, the police, newspapers and destroyed ITVLive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.


    How can the regulatory body be set up by the press when the regulator will be independent,the charter established by the crown through parliament and its rulings enforceable in the courts.

    Perhaps you have other sources of information,if so I would like to hear from you.This is a subject close to my heart.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Until we see the small print we cannot judge the outcome. The key question, yes or no, is can the terms of the Royal Charter, and the actions of the Press Regulator under it, be enforced in the courts? We will also look to see that the appointments to the regulating body are free of Press involvement. Two key issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    In previous comments on this issue I said that a shady backroom deal would be struck, I got lots of negs, looks like I could have made the right call,
    The simple truth is all of the political parties are afraid of the press.
    Cameron is a serial liar and the rest of them are not much better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I wonder if it is possible that someone whose name might possibly begin with M has been ringing round offering advice as to what the potential outcome of their decisions might be - I mean we all have a future to be considered?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    "Key players... Telegraph's Lord Black who is the key fix-it man for the industry, Associated Newspapers' ... former editor of the Mail on Sunday, the editor of the Times John Witherow and the editor of the FT Lionel Barber
    Which backs up Private Eyes' claim that the 'left of centre' Guardian and Indy were not invited.
    So a stitch for the right wing press, by the right wing press.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    what do people want from a press regulator? The hacking, blagging and so on are already illegal! Do we need a new law to reaffirm what is already banned?
    Some things can be improved such as apologies on the same page as the slander. However, a press regulator that has the power to decide what can and can't be published would be a huge blow to the free press. Don't buy a paper you don't like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Gutless capitulation to wealth and/or influence is the core value of the tories, so their attitude to Murdoch, the (tax-free) Barclays, etc. comes as no surprise.
    Nor should the surrender of the Lib-Dems astonish us, particularly as a vote would once again give the anti-coalition LDs some air.
    But it's just pathetic to see Labour giving in like this. Elections are still decided by press barons...


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