David Cameron is already irritating European leaders with his refusal to support any real-terms increases in the multi annual EU Budget, but this week, the Prime Minister is going to come under pressure to go even further and force a real-terms cut. This morning, he has Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander breathing down his neck, with a piece in the Times arguing that a cut is ‘difficult but achievable with the right leadership and the right approach from the UK’. In his own party, Liam Fox says it is ‘obscene’ to ‘even increase for inflation the inflated wages of the eurocrats’ and is arguing in a speech today that weaker members of the eurozone should leave the currency at the same time.
But the challenges go beyond comment pieces and speeches: Tory backbencher Mark Pritchard now plans to force a vote in the Commons on Wednesday to block any real-terms increases in the budget. There is a motion that afternoon to approve documents relating to EU budget simplification and the multi annual financial framework. Pritchard tells me that his amendment to the motion is not a rebellion. He says:
‘This is not a rebellion, but an amendment calling on the government to stand up to an inefficient, wasteful and profligate EU whilst at home people are feeling the pain of budget cuts. Europe should follow our lead – not be rewarded for failure.’
As Cameron will veto anything other than an increase which matches inflation, Pritchard’s motion will not in itself prevent a problem.
But I have learned that there is another amendment from Mark Reckless which calls for the real-terms cut. It is just over a year since 81 Tory MPs rebelled on a motion calling for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, and in those 12 months, the knot of rebellious MPs has grown. This is not going to be a comfortable week for the Prime Minister at all.
These three developments each represent challenges for Cameron’s leadership. Balls and Alexander are the most explicit, arguing that what EU leaders claim is impossible – to cut the budget – is in fact attainable ‘with the right leadership and the right approach from the UK’. Thus if Cameron returns with only his own aim of an inflation-only rise, Labour can claim that this was a failure of the Prime Minister’s leadership. Liam Fox, meanwhile, is not publicly disloyal to Cameron. But he is building a role for himself as a figure around which the right of his party can rally, which in itself is dangerous.
The biggest danger, though, lies in Wednesday’s vote: if Labour teams up with the Tory eurosceptics and supports Reckless’ motion for a cut, then the Prime Minister will find himself approaching the EU budget summit proposing a deal that falls short of the demands of his own parliament.
UPDATE: There’s now just one amendment, and it’s the most awkward one for Cameron. Here are the full details.