A SENIOR Cabinet Minister has rallied to David Cameron’s defence after the Prime Minister’s parliamentary defeat over the EU budget.
Iain Duncan Smith insisted Mr Cameron deserved “credit” for his tough stance on the budget and repatriating powers ahead of what could be another bruising week for the Tory leader.
He also confirmed the Prime Minister would pledge a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU – saying it was just a matter of “when and on what”.
More than 50 Tory backbenchers helped inflict a humiliating parliamentary defeat on Mr Cameron last week by demanding a real-terms cut in a seven-year Brussels funding package.
Rebel ringleader Mark Reckless has claimed at least one member of the Cabinet considered resigning to join the mutiny.
But, interviewed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Duncan Smith said achieving an inflation-only rise – around 2 per cent – at a crunch EU summit this month would be a good result.
The noted Eurosceptic said: “We are here right now trying to restrict the amount of money that goes to the European budget.
“I think he [Mr Cameron] would love to come back with a real-terms cut; I would love him to do it.
“But I just honestly feel that sometimes we do not give enough credit to him – the first man to veto a European treaty. He has told us he will veto something that he cannot bring back to the British Parliament.
“These are strong words compared to the last government, and even governments before when we saw budgets rise under the last government, we saw them lose half our rebate. The Prime Minister has been quite tough and quite strong on this.”
The Work and Pensions Secretary refused to state whether he personally wanted to see Britain leave the EU.
However, he insisted the country could thrive inside or outside the grouping.
Wednesday’s impassioned debate saw 53 Conservative MPs joining forces with the Opposition to pass a motion calling for an EU funding cut.
Although it is not binding – simply requiring Ministers to “take note” – the announcement of the result was greeted with loud cheers from the Tory benches.
Rebels included David Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden in East Yorkshire, and veteran Eurosceptics John Redwood and Bill Cash as well as a clutch of MPs elected for the first time in 2010.
The defeat was described as “humiliating” for the Prime Minister by shadow chancellor Ed Balls, MP for Morley and Outwood.
It also led to comparisons between Mr Cameron and John Major, whose premiership was dominated by Tory splits over Europe.
Mr Reckless claimed he spoke privately to an unnamed Eurosceptic Cabinet Minister during the debate and tried to persuade him to join the revolt.
He said: “I pitched my amendment to him and suggested he might support it.
“I said: ‘It could be your moment, there is a gap in the market’. I said how close the vote was going to be and made the case that they should leave the Cabinet, support my motion and put themselves at the head of a truly Eurosceptic force in the Conservative Party. They seriously considered it.”
Mr Cameron yesterday embarked on a three-day tour of the Gulf and Middle East.
He will fly back to the UK on Wednesday for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Downing Street over November 22’s EU budget summit.
The talks are expected to be combative, with Mrs Merkel said to have become exasperated by the UK’s sometimes-strained relationship with the EU.