Moves to give MPs a bumper pay rise looked doomed tonight after they ran into strong opposition from the main party leaders.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) is expected to recommend an increase of up to £10,000 to take backbenchers' salaries to more than £75,000 in 2015.
Although its report is not due until later this month, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband spelt out their opposition to such a display of largesse when other sections of the public sector are facing pay freezes or below-inflation rises.
They will be backed by MPs who will fear a backlash from voters in their constituencies at the general election in 2105 if they are awarded generous pay increases.
Ironically, Ipsa was handed the task of fixing MPs' salaries in an effort to insulate politicians from such controversies.
The pay and expenses body could theoretically impose large increases, leaving the Government in the bizarre position of having to legislate to prevent MPs from receiving the rises.
Ipsa has examined the pay of what is regarded as comparable professions in drawing up its recommendations.
It has found MPs generally lag behind GPs, many head teachers and senior police officers in income and their pay has fallen in relative terms in recent decades. In addition, British MPs earn less than their counterparts in North America and many western European nations.
Downing Street said yesterday it had urged the regulator to "take the broader fiscal climate into account" when recommending its rise - and had reminded it of the public sector pay squeeze. Mr Cameron has already said it would be "unthinkable" to make Westminster more expensive to the taxpayer.
Mr Clegg said he would not collect any increase if it was awarded - and, if necessary, would return the extra amount to the public purse.
The Deputy Prime Minister told a press conference: "My own view is the public would find it impossible to understand - particularly as there are millions of people in the public sector whose pay is only increasing by one per cent - that their parliamentary representatives at a time like this would be receiving pay increases far in excess of that one per cent increase."
However, Mr Clegg stopped short of saying MPs should not receive the increase and pointed out that backbenchers faced greater financial pressures than ministers who enjoyed a top-up through their ministerial salaries.
Senior Labour sources also said Mr Miliband believed backbenchers should only receive an increase in line with state sector workers.
"Any decision for an increase in MPs' pay must be consistent with what is happening to nurses, teachers and others in the public sector," they said.
The former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said: "The Government may have to legislate to stop it, frankly. I know, it's bonkers, but I don't think when they started down the road, they thought a) we'd be in the parlous state we are economically now, and b) [Ipsa] would come up with a proposal like this."
He said he would be prepared to propose a parliamentary motion to block a large increase if ministers did not.
The former GP Sarah Wollaston said she took a £40,000 pay cut to be a Tory MP but met "very many people" who were put off standing for election because it would mean a salary cut.
But she told BBC Radio 4's The World at One she had "no doubt that if this was to come to a vote, the Commons would not accept it…I wouldn't vote to accept it."
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