UK Politics

Cameron laughs off MP's 'threat' claim

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Media captionMr Cameron said the government's position was "not a million miles away" from that taken by MP Mark Pritchard

David Cameron has laughed off reports that his office threatened a backbench Tory MP over calls for a ban on wild animals in circuses.

Speaking at an EU summit in Brussels, Mr Cameron said the government's position was "not a million miles away" from that taken by Mark Pritchard.

The MP said he had been "bullied" by No 10 over his debate on Thursday.

Mr Cameron told reporters his office were not "slavering rottweilers" and "gentle and reasonable" talks were had.

Mr Pritchard made his comments at the start of a backbench debate on banning wild animals in English circuses - something the government has resisted, arguing it had to await the outcome of a legal case in Austria.

He told MPs he had initially been offered a "pretty trivial job" if he agreed not to push the Commons motion to a vote - but that was later "ratcheted up until last night I was threatened", he said.

'Profoundly relaxed'

Mr Pritchard said he had been told the prime minister himself would "look upon it very dimly indeed" if he did not withdraw the motion.

MPs eventually voted to back a ban on wild animals. Although it is not binding on the government, it will increase pressure on ministers to act.

But Mr Cameron said he was "profoundly relaxed" about the outcome of the debate - and said the government had been "minded" to have a ban anyway and there was no "great difference" between it and the backbench motion.

He joked that the government had "been through the hoops, walked the tightrope and possibly sent in the clowns as well".

He said he had hoped to reach a compromise on the motion, so it would use language "which would be more easily achievable" for the government.

Amid suggestions Mr Pritchard had been bullied, Mr Cameron said that his staff were "very gentle, reasonable people".

"My Downing Street operation, not everyone's absolutely like Mother Teresa, but that's the default setting," he said.

"I don't entirely agree with all the things I have read, that there's a sort of slavering rottweiler sitting by my desk, that's absolutely not the case. As I understand it, very gentle and reasonable conversations were had all round.

"It's a pity we couldn't close the gap between two groups of people who wanted to see a ban take place, but just had some arguments over technicalities and timings."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said the government was "sympathetic" to the motion for a ban and will look carefully at how it could be introduced - taking into account "unavoidable legal difficulties".

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