It was the Government, not the directors, which effectively pulled the plug on MG Rover.

Ultimately it took the decision for John Towers and his ill-fated Phoenix Consortium, sources have told The Birmingham Post.

It is claimed that when the Department of Trade and Industry sent a team over to China to try and salvage a deal with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation - and failed - everything changed.

It was then that the DTI, which had sought for months to keep a lid on the mess, decided that it was the end.

Until that point MG Rover had been stringing along the Chinese as best it could.

But when SAIC eventually hired accountants Ernst & Young to produce a report into the affair, its eyes were opened into how desperate was the financial state of the company.

The Birmingham Post has learned that the Government effectively dumped all chances of MG Rover being salvaged as its team returned from China. It determined that it must not have a Rover crisis breaking in the days immediately before polling day.

And it dare not risk that happening.

So, it decided to dump the ailing car company well ahead.

No one is denying that MG Rover was in a parlous state, but it was the Government which chose the timing of its demise, it is now alleged.

The assumption had originally been that somehow the Government would want to keep the company afloat until the election was over.

But once the last big push had failed with the Chinese, who now realised that they might have to pick up a pensions black hole and big redundancy payments, and demanded guarantees that MG Rover could stay solvent for two years - guarantees which proved impossible to meet - then the game was over.

Ten days before the collapse The Birmingham Post had been tipped off that MG Rover was set to go bust at any moment.

But no one would talk. There was a conspiracy of silence.

Suddenly all that went out of the window.

The DTI started holding media briefings, played down the chances of a deal, leaked information, somehow it came out that there was a supposed #400 million pension deficit, and, it is claimed, it deliberately destabilised the operation.

A high-placed source said: 'The election was happening and Labour could not afford something like this towards the end of the campaign. The Pope was dying, there was the Royal wedding between Charles and Camilla and that was concentrating attention.'

Labour, he said, had to keep the issue controlled and so news management went into overdrive.

No one is suggesting that MG Rover might have necessarily been saved, but, it is maintained, the Government chose when it was to go down - not the company's chairman, Mr Towers.

'That is completely correct,' said the source. 'That is exactly how it happened.'

Once the Government and DTI had turned against MG Rover, Mr Towers had little choice but to call in the administrators.

Now, the question is who picks up the pieces?

A separate source close tothe demise of MG Rover believes the Chinese will take what they need.

He insisted they remained 'as thick as thieves around MG Rover'.

SAIC has already paid millions of pounds to take the intellectual property rights to the Rover 75 and others to China.

There is no way that SAIC will do an upfront deal with the administrators but it is increasingly likely it will cherry-pick out of the shambles.

And that is what seems to be happening.

Hence the Chinese are talking to Rover 75 suppliers and it perhaps partly explains why Mr Towers, despite SAIC's public denials, suggests some sort of deal is not dead.

The Chinese presumably need MG Rover goodwill, the Rover 75 line and tooling, and expertise and skills among some of the staff.

'We've already told the British Government we're not interested in a Rover joint venture or in buying their business, but we have not ruled out buying their assets,' a spokeswoman said yesterday.

There is even talk that Indian group Tata still wants to work in a European context on producing the so-called City Rover or something like it.

As to MG there is a whole string of people who might be interested.

They range from John Moulton's Alchemy partners through to Ford. But as yet no front runner has emerged