FORMER Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael is facing demands to resign as an MP after he admitted sanctioning the leak of a memo intended to smear Nicola Sturgeon during the General Election campaign.


Mr Carmichael had claimed he first became aware of the document, which incorrectly claimed the First Minister had told the French Ambassador she backed David Cameron to become Prime Minister, after being contacted about it by a journalist in April.

However, a damning official leak inquiry published yesterday (fri) concluded the former cabinet minister allowed the document to be passed to the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph by his then special adviser.

Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood's findings led a contrite Mr Carmichael to write to Ms Sturgeon apologising for his 'error of judgement.'

She called on him to consider his position and accused him of "dishonesty" because of his earlier strenuous denials of involvement.

Her deputy, Stewart Hosie, said the MP for Orkney and Shetland - the sole candidate among 11 Scottish Liberal Democrats to have survived the SNP surge on May 7 - could not continue in politics.

He said: "I don't see how Alistair Carmichael can carry on as an MP, supposedly an 'honourable member'. It does a disservice to the people of Orkney and Shetland.

"How can anyone believe a word he says anymore, whether inside or outside the chamber? The one honourable thing he can and should do now is stand down from the House of Commons."

Mr Carmichael was not returning calls last night.

The saga began on the night of April 3, Good Friday, when the Telegraph tweeted its front page for the following day with the headline "Sturgeon's secret backing for Cameron".

The explosive story came just hours after the SNP leader had performed impressively in the first of the UK leaders' debates.

Her strong contention had been that she would do all she could to "lock out" David Cameron from Downing Street and had offered Ed Miliband support to put the Labour leader into No 10.

The revelation, therefore, that while Ms Sturgeon was declaring this in public, she was saying the complete opposite in private, was meant to brand the FM a hypocrite and do her and the SNP considerable political damage in the election campaign.

Not only that, the Tories also seized on her alleged admission - now proved false - with Mr Cameron, campaigning at the time in Oxfordshire, telling supporters: "She's told us something that I said about four years ago, which is: Ed Miliband is not up to the job of being Prime Minister."

The leak was from a memo written by an unnamed civil servant following a discussion between him and Pierre-Alain Coffinier, the French Consul-General, about a meeting in Edinburgh in March between Ms Sturgeon and Sylvie Bermann, the French Ambassador to the UK.

The First Minister was said to have told Mme Bermann that "she'd rather see David Cameron remain as PM" and that she "didn't see Ed Miliband as PM material".

Swiftly, the SNP leader put out a denial, denouncing the memo as "100 per cent untrue". M Coffinier also made clear that "absolutely no preference was expressed" by Ms Sturgeon over who should be Prime Minister.

Mr Carmichael, when pressed about the memo, admitted it had originated from his department but dismissed the leak as "just one of those things", adding: "This is the middle of an election campaign; these things happen."

But a leak inquiry was subsequently initiated by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary.

Yesterday it reported with the findings that the unnamed civil servant believed the memo to be an "accurate record" of the conversation between himself and M Coffinier but highlighted how "part of the conversation between the French Ambassador and the First Minister might well have been 'lost in translation'".

The inquiry found Euan Roddin, Mr Carmichael's special advisor, had confirmed he provided a copy of the memo to the Telegraph journalist, believing it was in the public interest to do so.

Mr Carmichael then admitted he had discussed the memo with Mr Roddin and agreed it should be given to the Press.

The former Scottish Secretary has now apologised to both Ms Sturgeon and the French ambassador after the Cabinet Office investigation into the leak concluded he "could and should have stopped the sharing of the memo".

In a statement, the LibDem MP said that while he had not seen the document before it was published, he was aware of its contents and agreed his special advisor should make them public.

"I should not have agreed this; it was an error of judgement, which I regret. I accept full responsibility for the publication of the document," said Mr Carmichael, explaining he had written to the FM and M Bermann to apologise.

"Had I still been a Government Minister, I would have considered this to be a matter that required my resignation. I have, therefore, informed the Cabinet Secretary that I will decline my ministerial severance payment." This is thought to be around £17,000.

Mr Roddin has also forfeited his severance pay, believed to be several thousand pounds.

Ms Sturgeon insisted Mr Carmichael "should consider his position" and noted: "As well as the original dirty trick, which was bad enough, he then tried to cover it up and is only admitting it now because he got caught."

She added: "It is reasonable to say it is at least possible that had voters in his constituency known he had engaged in dirty tricks of this nature during the campaign, then they might have voted differently."

Dave Penman, head of the FDA trade union, which represents senior public servants, said: "Politicians are more than aware that civil servants may become collateral damage when they choose to leak documents. The consequences for a civil servant leaking information could have been catastrophic but it would appear that different rules apply when it comes to politicians."