Oct 31 2012
David Cameron has insisted that he would prefer a cut in the EU budget as he struggled to contain a fresh mutiny over Europe.
But the Prime Minister said he would settle for limiting the increase to inflation. The intervention came as rebel Tories prepared to join forces with Labour to demand the Government take a tougher line on negotiations over the funding package for the next seven years.
Mr Cameron was dealt a blow when the Speaker refused to select an amendment touted as a compromise to split opposition. Instead, the Commons will vote on a text put forward by Tory backbencher Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester and Strood, demanding a real-terms cut.
Labour MPs will be ordered to support the amendment on Wednesday evening, and smaller parties are also expected to fall into line - raising the prospect of a humiliating defeat for Mr Cameron.
The PM and Chancellor George Osborne are said to have been holding personal meetings with wavering Conservatives amid a frantic operation by Government whips. Although the result is not binding on the Government, it would be awkward for Mr Cameron to defy the will of the House at next month's EU summit.
Asked about the issue by Tory Andrew Stephenson during a raucous Prime Minister's Questions session, Mr Cameron insisted that the Government was taking a tougher line on the negotiations than its predecessors.
"At best we would like a cut, at worst a freeze," he said. "I am quite prepared to use the veto if we do not get a deal that is good for Britain." Mr Cameron went on: "Let's be clear, it is in our interests to get a deal because a seven-year freeze would keep our bills down compared to annual budgets."
He attacked Labour leader Ed Miliband for "complete opportunism". Mr Cameron added: "They gave away half the rebate, they sent the budget through the roof and now they want to posture rather than get a good deal for Britain."
But Mr Miliband compared the Prime Minister to his Tory forerunner Sir John Major, who endured repeated rebellions over Europe. "It's John Major all over again," he said.
The European Commission has proposed an £826 billion budget ceiling for the 2014-20 period - a 5% hike compared with 2007-13. Despite other members such as Germany joining calls for restraint, Downing Street has suggested a rise in line with inflation is the best outcome that can be achieved.