Gordon Brown has been warned that his Cabinet reshuffle could be derailed by the continuing disclosures over excessive expenses claims by MPs.
Some ministers want Mr Brown to delay the shake-up until all the MPs likely to feature in it have been given an expenses "health check" by Labour whips. They fear The Daily Telegraph, which has obtained the claims by all MPs for four years, would target backbenchers promoted in the reshuffle – and could force Mr Brown to sack them from their new posts immediately.
One minister said: "There could be chaos. You can't do a reshuffle one day and then need another one the following day. You have got to get it right. We cannot afford this to turn into a farce."
Although the claims made by all MPs will be examined by an independent panel, this process will not be completed by the time of the planned reshuffle, which is expected shortly after next month's European and local elections.
MPs are submitting an edited version of their expenses to the Commons authorities, which will publish them. But Labour whips will need to see the uncensored version because that is the one the Telegraph has obtained. So far, the newspaper has published details of only 180 of the 646 MPs.
The difference between the full and edited versions was illustrated yesterday. Ian Gibson, the Labour MP for Norwich North, published his expenses online this week – but did not disclose that he spent almost £80,0000 of taxpayers' money on a flat that his daughter shared with her boyfriend. He later sold it to her for half its market value.
Labour referred Dr Gibson to a disciplinary panel which has the power to stop MPs from being candidates for the party at the general election. A spokesman said: "The panel will report back as soon as possible with recommendations to the organisation committee of the national executive committee [NEC] on whether to remove Ian Gibson's endorsement to stand for election as a Labour Party candidate."
Dr Gibson said he would stand down if his constituents want him to. He said: "I can see many people would think that that was unfair, but the whole system is very unfair. If this brings it to book and we get it straightened out, then so much the better."
There was conflicting advice for Mr Brown on the reshuffle from Peter Kenyon, a grass-roots representative on the NEC. He called for an immediate shake-up, saying there was no conceivable reason for Gordon Brown to wait.
Writing on the Labourhome website, Mr Kenyon said: "A major reshuffle/purge ahead of the European parliamentary elections is needed. Though care will have to be taken to ensure Cabinet ministers with a case to answer are out, and everyone retained and promoted is beyond reproach."
Lord Tebbit, the former Tory chairman, said a general election could not happen before October because of the need to weed out MPs who had made excessive expenses claims: "We do not want the same people coming back in, with more more stories about how awful they have been, while they say they have been legitimised by an election."