Disgruntled Tory backbenchers are set to defy David Cameron over two controversial issues this week, intensifying pressure on a Prime Minister who faces growing criticism for refusing to accept invitations to TV leaders debates.
Around 100 Conservative MPs will vote against the government’s proposals to force cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging on Wednesday. Dozens have also put their names on to a motion targeting the government over military spending on Thursday.
In an apparent attempt to reduce any embarrassment on plain packs, Tory whips, in charge of party discipline, have decided that Wednesday’s vote will be conducted without debate on slips of paper.
Yet this move may have angered some MPs even more. Nick De Bois, a well known Tory opponent of the proposals, told City A.M.: “The Commons is being denied the opportunity to expose on the floor of the House the weaknesses in the case for introducing plain packaging.”
Another, Philip Davies, said: “It would be better if there was a full debate on the floor of the House of Commons, but I am more concerned that the government are pursuing this idiotic policy than the mechanism by which they are pursuing it.”
Conservative MPs have also been increasingly unhappy with what they consider a lack of defence spending.
Tory chairman of the influential defence select committee Rory Stewart joined other MPs recently in demanding Britain stick to the Nato target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence. He said: “I think it’s very important that Britain spend two per cent of its GDP on defence.”
Defence secretary Philip Hammond refused to say yesterday whether he would meet their demand in the next parliament. There will be a debate on the issue, put on the agenda by Tory backbenchers.
These rows come as Cameron is coming under renewed criticism for refusing to take part in television debates, and as an extremely tight election gets ever closer.