EU budget revolt and PMQs as-it-happens

By

David Cameron faces another major rebellion over Europe from his backbenchers. Follow our live coverage throughout the day on politics.co.uk.

19:05 - THE VOTE

19:19 - Here's the result: AYES: 307, NOES 294. THE GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN DEFEATED. Huge cheering in the Commons, and whooping too. Huge news, and a major setback for the prime minister.

 

19:15 - The mood down in the voting lobbies is that the rebels think the government has won this one. But let's wait and see for the final confirmation...

19:12 - Here's a handy hint: the 'ayes' are the rebels, because they're the ones suggesting that their pesky amendment should be passed. That makes the 'noes', by a process of sheer elimination, the government.

19:05 - A defeat for the government would be a real setback for the prime minister - much more than the media has picked up, loyalists are warning. They are privately saying that backing the rebels here would undermine Cameron at the negotiating table because it would make him look weak: the government will, after all, have to put the final deal (if there is one) before the Commons before MPs' approval. Will other European leaders believe Britain can get it through parliament if he is defeated tonight?

18:10 - 19:00 - EU budget debate reaches its climax, as-it-happens

19:02 - So much for last-minute rumours that the government whips might not bother calling this particular debate. The cries of 'no!' from the government are louder than those of the rebels, but that means next to nothing. There are many more Tories in the Commons chamber than there are Labour.

19:01 - Greg Clark, the Treasury minister who started us off three hours ago, is now wrapping up with a brief speech. He's not impressing Tory backbenchers who are just about to rebel, that's for sure. Clark, after another quick swipe at the opposition, sums up: "We are ready, willing and able to veto, and we urge the House to stand with us as the prime minister goes to negotiate for us."

18:56 - And now here comes Conor Burns, talking very quickly and energetically. "How can we go back to our constituencies and look our electors back in the eye who are paying more for their food, rail fares..." he's talking exclusively to his Tory colleagues, ignoring the opposition benches completely. A brief speech, and a passionate one.

18:54 - Paul Blomfield is next, a Sheffield Labour MP who tries to make the case for Europe while making a speech in support of arch eurosceptics. He's waxing lyrical about the advantages of EU-funded research and development. This is broadly irrelevant to the issue about to be decided... but it helps wind down the time. Less than ten minutes to go, now, until MPs will begin voting. 

18:48 - Next is Edward Leigh, a real Tory old-schooler, who says he represents the "Catholic tendency" in parliament. He claims a "sea-change of attitude" is taking place not just in Britain, but in the entire country. And then, in the best moment of his speech, he says simply: "This is the House of Commons." It gets listened to. It matters.

18:46 - And now it's time for the extremely independent-minded Denis MacShane, the former New Labour Europe minister, now safely back within the embrace of his party once more. MacShane confirms he's going to vote for the rebel government, which means he's obeying his party line on this occasion. "Tonight it's right that parliament asserts its authority - that does not mean the end of the debate," he adds. And then, clarifying: "It means the beginning the debate."

18:41 - Mark Pritchard, one of the more outspoken rebels in the run-up to this debate, is now speaking. His point is a simple one: "surely" it must be possible for the EU to find some efficiency savings here and there. Directly responding to Sir Tony Baldry, he says it is "the ultimate act of self-indulgence" to ignore the will of the British people. Much more in the same vein, and then at the end the rhetoric is ramped up even further: there's no point "parading as eurosceptics" unless you act that way, he urges.

18:31 - It's time for Northern Ireland MP Sammy Wilson, the DUP's MP for East Antrim, points out to MPs that he happens to be the finance minister chappy in the Northern Ireland executive. There have been a lot of cuts, he explains. So why should there not be a similar attitude when it comes to the  "over-fed bureaucracy of Europe"? He says "we've got to put down a marker". And then takes his speech to a new level, calling for the sinners of the government to repenteth. Or something. Crikey.

18:24 - "I'm not sure whethere this is a volte-face or a volte-farce," Denis MacShane intervenes on Jenkin. The Tory says the exchanges between the frontbenches are "chilling" in their suggestion that a veto is a defeat. He's obviously signed up to Reckless' argument. Jenkin is very good at this sort of occasion. "This amendment is simply a cry of despair from the British people, who want their elected representatives to say something to the British people." He attacks the "governing class". It's hot stuff, actually. Yes sir. "They can neither deliver the engagement of the British state with our European partners on the terms of the relationship that is set down in the treaties, but nor are they trying to deliver the different terms of agreement that the British people would prefer."

18:21 - Mark Hendrick, a Labour backbencher, is now speaking. His speech is rather less impassioned, but he's making an interesting point: it's a great idea to spend money developing other EU countries... very novel. Bernard Jenkin, the Tory who's next, points out this sounds a lot like a speech in favour of an increase in the budget - and not the cut which Labour MPs are being asked to vote for today.

18:16 - Tempers and passions are on the rise in the Commons as this debate progresses towards H-hour, now just three-quarters of an hour away. Baldry finishes: "If this party wants to be in government after the next general election, it has got to get a grip and start supporting the prime minister."

18:12 - Right, my attention is now turning to the Commons chamber for the final 50 minutes or so of the debate. Sir Tony Baldry is speaking at the moment, in support of "colleagues supporting the prime minister". He appeals directly to rebels to desist, and has the experience to back it up. "I was a minister throughout every day of John Major's government and I know how much that government was weakend by colleagues constantly going into the division lobby and voting against the government in the 1991-1992 period." He calls the rebel amendment a "self-indulgence".

18:00 - Ottaway: Don't tie the PM's hands

Here are those quotes from Richard Ottaway, chair of the Commons' foreign affairs committee. He's a Conservative MP, to boot, and one who is going to be supporting the prime minster in the division lobbies tonight.

The prime minister's made it pretty clear he's going to veto anything above a freeze here, and I think he's absolutely right. I'm supporting him in the division lobbies because we can't tie his hands. To tie his hands on this is completely counter-productive. What sort of a negotiation is it when he goes into the room and everyone knows what his cards are? We've got to give him a free hand to cut the best deal.

17:30 - The Lib Dem position - and a much more threatening coalition ruckus

I've ducked out of the Commons debate, conveniently after the main speeches, to get the view of the coalition's junior party on this fine mess. It is the general policy of the Liberal Democrats, it's fair to say, that they don't think a government defeat is a particularly Good Thing. But they don't think it's bad enough that it will actually affect David Cameron's negotiating position. A party source says the Lib Dems are in "lock-step" with David Cameron on this. "We've got a clear position that we'll take to the summit next month, and that is a doable deal." Arguing for a real-terms cut, by contrast, is simply not 'doable'. The Lib Dems' main beef is not, on this occasion, with the Conservatives, but Labour. "It's the hypocrisy of Labour's position that deserves the most withering attack," the source said.

A much more damaging issue for the coalition is boundary changes. Liberal Democrats, thanks to a very convenient Labour amendment in the Lords, are looking to boot the boundary changes into the long grass of 2018 on Monday. When the bill to which the amendment is attacked comes back to the Commons, it's been confirmed today that Lib Dem MPs will vote AGAINST the Tories to overturn the redrawing of the electoral map begun by Nick Clegg in this parliament. The Tories and Lib Dems disagree on Europe, but they can live with that. Because an increasingly large number of Conservatives believe the extra 20 MPs the boundary changes would bring them are vital to securing an overall majority in 2015, they're unlikely to be so civilised.

16:00-17:05 - The debate gets underway, as-it-happens

17:03 - Now Reckless is reading from a European Commission press release which warns of the chaos that would ensue if no deal is made. "Hurray!" his supporters shout as these various calamities, involving very limited spending, are revealed to them. "If you're happy with an inflationary increase, plus everything else that happens... then vote for the motion. If you think the European Union is too large, its budget needs to be cut, then support my amendment." Hearty cheers from a limited number of MPs.

17:00 - "If we use the veto, that is not a bad place to be," Reckless continues. This is where he's delving into the detail of the policy... an interesting call. Will MPs just get lost in all this? 

16:57 - Reckless, after getting some support from fellow rebel Sarah Wollaston, broadens further the prime minister's PMQs attack on Brussels bureaucrats. "Every time they have another child, EU officials get paid tax free another £300 per month per child!" What a contrast with the child benefit cuts taking place in Britain. "Disgraceful!" a Tory MP near Reckless shouts. Maybe this general anti-EU tirade is working. After all, this is what a little, tiny bit of the EU budget's money will be spent on.

16:55 - "We simply cannot afford to agree an inflationary increase to the EU," Mark Reckless, the leader of the rebels, begins. His is a critical speech: what tone will it adopt? He starts by echoing the arguments he used in his interview with me yesterday. A very irritable David TC Davis lambasts Labour for daring to support Reckless. "Sometimes people do the right thing for the wrong reasons," Reckless replies. That was a very well-prepared line.

16:53 - Leslie's big argument for backing the rebel amendment is that calling for a real-terms cut will strengthen the PM's position. "It is our duty to fortify him and help him on his way," he says, wrapping up. A variation on Clark's theme, but with a very different purpose.

16:52 - The serious business of Tory MPs debating among themselves will follow shortly; for now the Conservative benches seem to be viewing Leslie's speech as a splendid light entertainment cartoon before the main feature presentation gets underway. I suspect Leslie himself is secretly enjoying all this. Is he being deliberately provocative - saying, for example, that some have accused Labour of being "hypocritical"? I may be giving him the benefit of the doubt here...

16:41 - Here's an intervention from Dennis Skinner, the Beast of Bolsover. He says this is almost a replay of John Smith worrying the Tories over the Maastricht treaty - that, he notes, didn't work out so well. The result could be Leslie ends up "backbench", Skinner says, sitting down and folding his arms. Leslie won't be very happy with that. The Tories are laughing now.

16:39 - "The chancellor is there puppeting him along the way... this is an incredibly serious issue, chancellor," Leslie says. John Bercow then intervenes. "I'm sure in your own way you mean well," he says to Cameron loyalist Nadhim Zahawi. Lots of humour in the Commons right now... but the issue remains: would Labour use the veto, or is it better not to reveal your hand?

16:36 - Leslie argues that a veto would mean an extra £310 million coming from the exchequer for the 2014 budget. "We need a negotiating strategy that is going to work." Tory MPs are pressing Labour on whether or not they would back the use of a veto or not. Leslie, who won't answer yes or no, is being destroyed here. But he makes a decent point by wondering what the point of going to the negotiations if he's just going to "flounce" away, like he did last December.

16:34 - Now it's the turn of Labour's shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie, who complains that Clark's speech was a little "partisan". That gets roars of mocking laughter from the Tory benches. "Well, it was," Leslie says, sounding hurt. He then proceeds to lay into the Tories with an utterly partisan speech of his own.

16:31 - The argument, then, is that it would be better for the PM to stick to his word rather than give way at the last minute. Not so impressive, that - potential rebels could easily disagree. Clark wraps up with an excellent cricketing analogy: "He deserves the support of this House as he goes in to bat for Britain."

16:29 - Clark lists three differences between the amendment and the government motion. Firstly, it removes the condemnation of the last government for giving away large chunks of the EU rebate; secondly, it deletes references to EU taxes; thirdly, it cuts the call for a real-term freeze. This latter point "comes to the crux of it" - he's right there. Clark outlines his "message to all those members present who are genuinely outraged... I believe the EU should cut now and keep on cutting..." The Commons has fallen silent now as MPs listen carefully.

16:26 - Slightly more predictable stuff now when Clark turns his attention to the attitude of Labour. He points out that Labour agreed to an eight per cent increase in spending on the EU last time round. He accuses Labour of playing "cynical political games" and being guilty of  "opportunistic posturing".

16:23 - "The next seven years must seen an end to this perpetual ratchet-up of EU spending," Clark continues, after an intervention from Andrew Percy - one of the Tory rebels. Often this sort of situation is extremely awkward for government ministers - Sir George Young's desperate defence of the government's position during Lords reform is a classic example - but Clark is making this look easy. His rhetoric is blending with those of the arch-eurosceptics, which will surely help win over the waverers.

16:20 - Wow - Clark isn't holding back. The Commission are being "insolent", he declares, to the British government. He claims their attitude is they are "better educated than national civil servants". "The British public are ready to make sacrificies... but not to featherbed a self-styled elite and their agenda." It's an extremely strong line being taken by Clark, and is perfectly calculated to blunt the advances of the rebels.

16:16 - I've just returned from an interview with foreign affairs committee chair Richard Ottaway, who will be voting with the government later. Some audio clips from that coming up a bit later, but right now I'm going to focus on the speech opening the debate by Treasury minister Greg Clark. He's at the despatch box now, with Europe minister David Lidington nodding away to his right and the chancellor, George Osborne, looking slightly more reserved-Machiavellian to his left.

15:20 - Both sides agree: It's going to be close

There's been a lot of buildup to this vote, as you might expect. Or not: we mustn't forget it is, after all, ultimately non-binding. This is a motion to take effect on an EU document, which needn't have any effect other than that the House has taken a view. The prime minister's spokesperson has made it plain that the government would use either result to strengthen its hand at the negotiating table. Ministers would be perfectly within their rights to take a more relaxed view.

Both sides are indicating to me that no such relaxed view is in evidence. Instead government sources inside the Commons are indicating that the whips are taking this very seriously indeed. This is the new team's first big test since the departure of Andrew Mitchell. Ultimately, the government likes to win votes in the Commons. They're not holding back.

Such is the appeal of the rebel amendment that their efforts may yet prove in vain. It is "extraordinarily tight", a member of the rebel camp told me. Government sources are wondering how many Labour MPs will vote with the Tory rebels. "The government never wants to have its position curtailed," I was told. "The whips are working hard, trying to get the numbers down."

As in all these crunch debates, many backbenchers are determinedly keeping an 'open mind' and will decide depending on the content of the debate. Some of those will, admittedly, already have decided and are just being coy. But others will genuinely be uncertain, meaning what actually happens on the floor of the Commons between now and 7pm will be critical. The key players are keeping their speeches flexible, I've been told; they'll judge the mood in the chamber and, depending on what they think will be more effective, either deploy the broad brush or bombard the waverers with the nitty-gritty of policy. All this makes the prospect of following the debate thoroughly enjoyable...

15:35 UPDATE - Cameron intervenes?

The prime minister has, according to blogger Guido Fawkes, been up to his old tricks again. Cameron is supposed to have confronted Tory rebel Andrew Bridgen at a Downing Street reception for northern MPs last night with the following undiplomatic remarks: "What do you think you are doing? This isn't some f***ing sixth-form debating society." Andrew Bridgen himself has disputed the detail, but not the substance...

 

 

17:50 - ANOTHER UPDATE

Guido are now claiming that it was Andrew Bingham who swore, not Andrew Bridgen; whoever it is, Bingham or Bridgen, they're denying it.

14:45 - The Cyprus gambit

We're expecting the current debate on the local government finance bill, which relatively few people care about (sorry, councillors reading this) to wrap up in around an hour's time - between half-three and four-ish, according to a helpful Commons source. That allows a decent three-hours of debate on the EU budget before the vote itself takes place at 7pm.

Meanwhile, abroad, there has been a Development. The Cypriot government - which is acting as the chief negotiator throughout this process - has proposed a 50 billion euro cut (that is, over £40 billion) to the total EU budget. That is a significant reduction, but around half of the 100 billion euro cut the UK government is effectively asking for.

The proposal isn't going down very well, Reuters reports. Western governments which are net contributors are pouring scorn on the compromise, while the governments of newer eastern countries aren't impressed either. It's an early signal that this process is going to be extremely gruelling for all concerned.

13:20 - Under the skin of the EU budget debate

There are, I suspect, only a handful of people in parliament who really understand all the issues relating to the EU budget debate. Just to boost your confidence in this live blog, I am definitely not one of them. But having wrestled with the issues all week and spoken to all the key players, I'm starting to get a hold on the basic dilemmas. Here's a brief assessment of how I see them right now.

There are four possible outcomes of next month's negotiations: a real-terms cut, a real-terms freeze, a real-terms increase or the default two per cent hike resulting from a failure to find agreement.

Labour MPs, as well as the Conservative backbenchers preparing to rebel against the government this evening, want Britain's position to be all in favour of a real-terms cut. In this they are, surprisingly, joined by David Cameron (see the 11:55 post below). The difference is that the prime minister is a pragmatist. He knows that the EU countries set to benefit overall from an increased budget might just veto that outright, which would result in the default two per cent hike. Hence the government's position calling for a real-terms freeze.

It is a shame for No 10 that Jacob Rees-Mogg's amendment, which had attracted the support of 16 MPs in total, did not get selected. Rees-Mogg told me yesterday that he was worried the government would be playing a dangerously hardball game if it demanded a budget cut. With his amendment calling on the UK to "veto anything other than a cut or freeze", the fire could have been taken out of the rebels' motion. As it is, the Speaker has given MPs a clear choice: either call for a cut, or back the government's call for a freeze. Simples.

This, unfortunately, is where the plot thickens. Mark Reckless, the Conservative MP behind the rebel amendment, dismisses Rees-Mogg's argument as "throwing up chaff to confuse people". As the whips do their utmost to win over Tory MPs, Reckless is responding with a very complex argument of his own. Boiled down, it is that Britain can afford to play hardball. Why? Because, Reckless believes, Britain would be better off with the two per cent default increase resulting from a failed negotiation than it would be if a real-terms freeze is agreed.

How can an increase in the budget leave the UK paying less than it would if the budget stays the same? The answer lies in a complicated related issue: the rebate.

Under the terms of the last big EU budget negotiation, Tony Blair's 2005 effort, Britain agreed that its rebate would slowly get reduced. That's because it's only the old EU countries which are effectively paying for Britain's EU rebate: the new ones, those which joined in the 21st century, aren't stumping up anything to help little old Britain out. What that means is that as EU spending slowly shifts from the old member states to new member states, Britain will end up getting less of a rebate.

Rebel MPs say Britain's total contribution to the EU budget under the terms of a real-terms freeze will rise from £9.2 billion now to £13.6 billion by 2019/20. This is well above the two per cent alternative, isn't it?

Under this logic, there's no point shilly-shallying around trying to get agreement on a real-terms freeze. Much better to call for a cut and use the veto if necessary.

Will that argument be sufficient to sway Tory backbenchers? We'll find out later.

 

12:00 - PMQs as it happens

12:34 - And that is that. A disappointingly lacklustre performance from Miliband, who didn't make the most of the opportunity he had today. My feeling is that the prime minister's performance will help wavering backbenchers to vote with the government tonight. On that basis, this was a total flop for Labour.

12:32 - Arch-eurosceptic MP John Baron is next. But, alas, he's asking a question about defence. Cameron, relieved, says he's always happy to have a chit-chat about that. Jim Dobbin, Labour, raises child benefit. He wonders whether the changes are going to cost about £100 million. Cameron replies by saying the move will save £2 billion. "I find it completely inexplicable why the party opposite that says they want those with the broadest backs to share some of the burden oppose [the move]."

12:29 - Here's the Liberal Democrats' Julian Huppert - the first Lib Dem, I think, of the session. Huppert is a little worried that this might not be the greenest government ever, as the Lib Dems are hoping. Cameron says "this is indeed a very green government". That's not quite the same thing.

12:28 - Julian Sturdy, a Tory, isn't happy with York council for hiking up council tax. York is Labour-run, of course, so Cameron is happy to bash away at them. "We're on the side of people who want to work hard and get on," Cameron says.

12:27 - Philip Hollobone is next on the list. He's a Tory troublemaker but asks a boring question about his local hospital here. Not boring for his constituents, of course. This is a little bit politically sensitive, because Kettering is very close to Corby - where the by-election campaign is currently hotting up.

12:25 - Jim Shannon, a Northern Ireland MP, asks a question about army medics. He thinks they're "unsung heroes of military conflict". Cameron promises a meeting and wants to know how the military covenenat is going in Northern Ireland. One of the fallen soldiers this week was a medic.

12:23 - After a question on the NHS, the Tories' Margot James asks a thoroughly loyalist question. And gets a very boring answer in response. It helps eat up the minutes the PM has to endure, that's for sure. On Heseltine, Cameron points out Hezza makes clear that more borrowing and more deficit would be a very Bad Idea. So there, Labour. So there.

12:21 - Time for another round of Chris Bryant vs David Cameron next. The Labour MP accuses Cameron once again of having a "stash" of emails. "I am still waiting," Cameron says, for an apology after being insulted. He gives Bryant short shrift with his answer - at least it was an answer this time.

12:19 - Cameron says "it's not a good day" for Miliband's jokes or the substance - he's certainly right about the former. Miliband's final question is extremely long-winded, and tries to tie up energy policy with Heseltine. Cameron wraps up with an unusually brief finish: Miliband, he says is "no Michael Heseltine". That just about sums that exchange up: very poor, overall. The Labour leader was hopeless, and Cameron was able to respond with a semi-justified contempt. The prime minister will have improved his chances of winning tonight's vote on the EU budget with that performance.

12:17 - Miliband's penultimate question is about energy policy - and the onshore wind energy calamity which has befallen the government courtesy of John Hayes, the relevant minister. He's taking so long about it he gets heckled by the Tories. "I'm rather enjoying this!" Miliband grins. That doesn't help. Bercow, in a bad mood, tells off government backbenchers - he's actually threatening them with detention. Miliband, meanwhile, wants to know what the energy policy is. Cameron simply celebrates the Hitachi investment in nuclear energy in Britain. The PM focusing on the bigger picture, there. "Frankly all parties are going to have to have a debate about what happens once those [2020] targets are met."

12:15 - And here's Ed Miliband once again, raising Michael Heseltine's report which says the government doesn't have a strategy for wealth creation. Laughter from the Labour benches. David Cameron pulls out some more positive quotes from Hezza in response. "Frankly, we can sit here all afternoon trading quotes. I think he is making a much bigger point - what he is saying over decades our economy became too centralised..."

12:14 - Jack Lopresti asks a question about Winterbourne View, the appalling care home. Cameron says there should be further prosecutions if there need to be. "What happened was completely unacceptable."

12:12 - And so the questions continue. Steve Rotherham, of Labour, raises Hillsborough and Leveson. "Self-regulation of the press by the press is simply no longer acceptable to the public," he says, before accusing the PM's ministers of briefing against Leveson. Cameron gives the usual holding order, after John Bercow offers another rebuke. He's in a particularly tetchy mood this morning.

12:10 - Well, that was actually pretty lame. The Speaker again interrupts and tells Cameron off for directing his questioning at the Speaker, breaking parliamentary procedure - just because Cameron said 'would YOU use the veto?" as opposed to 'would the right honourable gentleman sitting opposite me use the veto?' Not quite the same impact, is it? And with that, we finish. Miliband must be saving a couple of questions up for something else. A tactic which doesn't always work, it has to be said.

12:09 - The Speaker interrupts Miliband mocking Cameron's "crimson tide" at just the wrong moment. Very awkward. It doesn't seem to be happening for Labour. "The reality is this: he can't convince anyone on Europe." He says the veto last year was Cameron 'flouncing out'. He makes a decent point that Cameron is "weak abroad, weak at home - it's John Major all over again!" Cameron responds by attacking Miliband's position, saying it's "incredible". Would Miliband use the veto, he asks?

12:07 - Miliband comes back awkwardly, making a meal of quoting back Cameron's quotes in opposition about pushing for a real-term cut. "When it comes to opportunism, this prime minister is a gold medallist!" he says triumphantly. "How can he even be giving up on a cut in EU budgets before the negotiations have even begun?" Cameron isn't impressed by this - he's making it all about "consistency", and points out that Labour MEPs voted for a budget freeze last year - not the cut Labour MPs will vote for later.

12:06 - Here's Miliband, who says Cameron has an "opportunity to get a mandate for this House" to get a cut. "Why is he resisting that opportunity?" Cameron says the whole country will see through Miliband's "rank opportunism". He points out that Labour gave away a massive rebate. "He says the nation will absolutely see straight through it."

12:04 - Andrew Stephenson, a Tory backbencher, presses Cameron on whether he'd use the veto. The PM is happy to give that assurance - he says the government is taking the "toughest line" in recent times. "But let's be clear, it is in our interest to get a deal, because a seven-year freeze would keep our bills down." He then attacks Labour's "opportunism", before Ed Miliband gets up to begin his questioning.

12:03 - Cameron begins by paying tribute to two fallen soldiers, praising their "courage, their dedication". Virtually all MPs in the Commons are wearing poppies now, of course, so the 'hear hear' is especially heartfelt.

12:01 - Right, time to go for the weekly setpiece clash between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Big Ben is bonging away, and if Miliband has any sense he'll press Cameron on the EU budget issue. Should be underway very shortly indeed.

 

11:55 - Lobby report: Big concession from Downing Street

 

The most significant line to emerge from this morning's lobby briefing with No 10 is this:

Would the prime minister like to see a cut in the EU budget? Yes, he would.

It might not sound like much, but in the context of today's debate this should be viewed as a big deal. I've been to every lobby briefing this week so far and have seen Downing Street determinedly defend the government's position - that it believes a real-term freeze is the best option for Britain. Now that has all changed; David Cameron's ideal position is, in fact, a cut. The government just doesn't think it will be able to get it, because there are 17 EU countries which are net recipients from the EU budget - and would be very happy to veto such a deal.

Here's a few more quotes from this morning's unusually long briefing:

Our message on the issue of the EU budget has been a consistent one. We have been arguing that we need to restraint at a time countries have to make cuts in their own budgets. We will not accept a real-terms increase in the EU budget over the next ten years.

When pressed on whether the government's position would change as a result of this evening's vote, which is non-binding, the prime minister's spokesperson was keen to emphasise that "this is a negotiation". He added: "We will argue for the best possible deal for the UK." In short, it's probably not going to make the slightest bit of difference. "It's parliament expressing a view on an important issue."

The other big news is that the Speaker has only chosen to select Mark Reckless' amendment. That means Jacob Rees-Moggs' very sympathetic alternative, which would have helped the government, won't be a factor this afternoon. More on the significance of that after PMQs, which is just about to get underway...

 

10:55 - Cameron's authority faces a tough test today

Good morning, one and all, and welcome to what promises to be a day of high jinks here in the Commons. At stake is the authority of the prime minister, as Tory rebels dispute the government's motion suggesting that the best way to approach next month's EU budget negotiations, covering the period from 2014 to 2020, is to argue for a real-terms freeze in spending. Conservatives don't like that - not one bit. I spoke to Mark Reckless, the Tory rebel ringleader, in his office in parliament last night. His argument was simple.

I represent my constituents, and many of them have had their wages and salaries frozen. We can't afford to give these inflationary increases to the EU all the way to 2020. It's just not fiscally responsible or sustainable. I'm standing up for the taxpayer.

His arguments are gaining traction with his parliamentary colleagues. There were 45 signatures on Mark Reckless' amendment, which calls for the government "to strengthen its stance so that the next multi-year financial framework is reduced in real terms". A few of those are Northern Irish MPs, and there's Labour's Kate Hoey in there too, but the point is clear: this is going to be a big revolt. It looks like the new team of government whips under Sir George Young are striving as hard as they can to limit the damage, so the stage is set for a tough battle when the vote comes along later.

It's going to be much later, by the way. Today's cut-off point is 7pm, which is when the vote is likely to take place. It's still not clear exactly what time the debate will begin, because the government has also arranged for the Lords to send down some local government legislation for the Commons to consider. Debate on that could take a while - conveniently limiting the time MPs can spend debating the EU budget motion. Classic gameplaying by the government's Commons business managers, but there you are.

I'm off to lobby with the prime minister's spokesperson now, so will be bringing you more on the state of play from Downing Street's point of view by around 11:40. Then we've got prime minister's questions to look forward to at noon - and then a whole afternoon of politicking as this evening's vote approaches. Let the games begin!

Get involved Get Involved