It seems that David Cameron now can't go more than a week without another Tory split story. The Times has the news that Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, a long-standing critic of Cameron (he once described him as a "despicable creature without any real redeeming features"), is to resign the party whip today. His decision will reportedly be announced in a statement from the Chief Whip’s office at 12pm. He told the paper that "he did not plan to join UKIP or any other party and would stand down at the next election, but declined to discuss why he had made the decision."
It's safe to say that the Tory rebels have just lost one of the 46 letters required to trigger a vote of confidence in Cameron.
Update: It's now emerged that Mercer's resignation was not due to unhappiness with Cameron or the party but an alleged lobbying scandal due to be exposed by Panorama and the Daily Telegraph. The latter has just published an initial story and promises "a series of revelations" tomorrow.
Update 2: Here's the statement Mercer has just issued:
Panorama are planning to broadcast a programme alleging that I have broken Parliamentary rules. I am taking legal advice about these allegations, and I have referred myself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
In the meantime, to save my Party embarrassment, I have resigned the Conservative Whip and have so informed Sir George Young. I have also decided not to stand at the next General Election.
And here's the Tories' response:
The PM is aware. He thinks Patrick Mercer has done the right thing in referring himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and resigning the whip. It’s important that the due processes take their course.