David Cameron is facing a major rebellion from within his own party after it emerged that the Coalition Government could alter a pledge to replace Britain's £20bn Trident nuclear deterrent. Senior Tory MPs immediately spoke out against the suggestion that the divisive project could be delayed until after the next general election. Some predicted the Prime Minister would have a cabinet revolt on his hands if he attempted to backtrack on the Government's pledge to renew the programme.
One MP warned it may even be a resigning issue for Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, who has fought the Treasury hard against cuts to his department's budget.
The final decision over Trident is currently due to be taken in 2014. But a delay would suit ministers, potentially reducing costs at a time of eye-watering budget squeezes and heading off a major row between the Coalition parties in the run-up to the next general election.
Trident remains one of the main policy differences dividing Tories and Liberal Democrats, who agreed to go ahead with renewing the programme as part of the Coalition agreement. However, the agreement allows Liberal Democrats to continue to campaign for an alternative.
Tories suspect an option of delaying the go-ahead has been suggested to help Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, ahead of his party conference this weekend.
Julian Lewis, a former shadow defence minister, said such a delay would be a "breathtaking betrayal" of a policy agreed by the Coalition Government, and would be unacceptable to Mr Fox.
"I and the Secretary of State for Defence came into politics primarily to ensure that this country would always have nuclear weapons as long as other countries have them," he said.
"I would be amazed if he remained Secretary of State for Defence if a decision... were actually to be taken in defiance of all the pledges given to the electorate and given to Conservative MPs by our leadership when we were asked to join the Coalition."