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MPs back ban on wild animals in circuses

No 10 humiliated after granting MPs a free vote midway through the debate.

It's been an extraordinary afternoon in the Commons, where MPs have been debating Tory MP Mark Pritchard's backbench motion banning the use of wild animals in circuses. The government opposes a ban on the grounds that it could face a face a legal challenge under the EU services directive and David Cameron imposed a three-line whip on the vote earlier today.

But remarkably, midway through the debate, the government performed a U-turn and agreed to give MPs a free vote. Given that 199 members have signed an Early Day Motion supporting a ban there's now a strong chance of the bill passing.

In his extraordinary opening speech, Pritchard accused Downing Street and the whips of "bullying" him and revealed that he was offered a job in return for calling off the debate.

He said:

It has been in interesting last few days. If I offered to amend my motion or drop my motion or not call a vote on this motion... I was offered reward, an incentive. It was a pretty trivial job as most of the ones I have had until at least probably 30 minutes from now are.It has been in interesting last few days.

But I was offered incentive and reward on Monday, then it was ratcheted up to last night when I was threatened. I had a call from the prime minister's office directly, and I was told unless I withdraw this motion, that the prime minister himself said that he would look upon it very dimly indeed.

Well I have a message for the whips and for the prime minister of our country, and I didn't pick a fight with the prime minister of our country, but I have a message: I may just be a little council house lad from a very poor background, but that background gives me a backbone, it gives me a thick skin and I am not going to be kowtowed by the whips on an issue that I feel passionately about. We need a generation of politicians with spine, not jelly."

Why the government chose to impose a three-line whip remains a mystery. A vote in favour of a ban would not have compelled it to introduce legislation. As for Pritchard, the secretary of the 1922 committee, he may have just written his own political suicide note but he has won the respect of all sides of the House this evening.

Update: MPs have just voted in favour of a ban. The government has been defeated as well as discredited.