Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said: "The position is clear, that the Cabinet has agreed we should not take the full pay increase, that it should be deferred and that John Prescott [Deputy Prime Minister] and others should look at how it is phased and staged in."
David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, said that Mr Prescott would find a consensus for this year's pay rise, but a decision on next year's pay settlement should not be reached until the next report by the senior salaries review body. It is expected that the rise from April will be limited to the rise for nurses and most other public-sector workers.
Mr Prescott was sounding out Cabinet colleagues on plans for defusing the row, including the possibility of linking future pay rises to those for civil servants, when news broke that Mr Brown had waded back into the row. "I have insisted that, across the board, public-sector pay settlements must be guided by firmness and fairness," Mr Brown said. His reference to "across the board" was seen as a rebuke to Cabinet ministers still squabbling over their rises.
Cabinet sources confirmed yesterday that they were extremely angry both about being "bounced" into forgoing the pay rises by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, and about the way it was handled.
Mr Prescott was given the task of peace-maker by the Prime Minister, and began consulting colleagues last week by telephone. The deputy Prime Minister did another ring-around of the Cabinet on Monday night.
Mr Prescott is concerned that unless the Cabinet accepts a hike in pay at some stage, they could be overtaken by their junior ministers.