David Cameron is braced for a humiliating rebuff tomorrow from Tory MPs demanding that he takes an even tougher stance on negotiations over the European Union’s budget.
Dozens of his backbenchers are preparing to back a rebel call for EU spending to be cut in 2014-20 – a stance that Downing Street dismissed today as unrealistic.
The Government is attempting to fight off pressure from across the EU, including France and Germany, for above-inflation rises in the Brussels budget.
The Conservative rebels are set to be supported by Labour MPs who also want EU spending to be trimmed, raising the prospect of a knife-edge result in the Commons vote.
Downing Street sought tonight to play down the significance of the debate, insisting its result would make no difference to Mr Cameron’s stance at a summit in Brussels next month to fix the budget. It described tomorrow’s vote as an opportunity for MPs to “express a view”.
However, defeat would be a further wounding blow to the Prime Minister’s authority following a revolt last in which 81 Tory backbenchers demanded a referendum on the EU.
If Labour supports the rebel motion, in theory only 44 Conservative dissidents are required to defeat the Coalition on the issue.
The motion has been supported by 35 MPs and many more are said to have privately promised to back it, setting the scene for a close vote in the Commons.
A separate amendment, tabled by the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, calls for Mr Cameron to veto any EU proposal other than a cut or a freeze in the EU budget.
Government sources are reluctant to contemplate the Prime Minister wielding his veto, insisting they believe a deal can be done despite the divisions among the EU’s 27 members.
Blocking an agreement could rebound on Britain as the EU could impose annual budgetary settlements which this country would be powerless to block.
Downing Street sources were scathing about Labour’s tactics.
One said: “We are taking a tougher position – at least publicly – than anyone else is in Europe and we believe it is a deal that can be done. A real-terms cut is never doable in a million years. This is short-term opportunism and parliamentary game-playing by Labour.”