Downing Street issued a stark warning that the bill to legalise gay marriage will run into grave trouble - and cost the taxpayer an extra £4bn - if the Labour party joins forces with Tory opponents to vote in favour of granting civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
As David Cameron was accused by the Conservative Grassroots group of showing “utter contempt” for party activists by pressing ahead with plans to equalise marriage, Labour sources voiced fears that No 10, Cameron’s office, appeared to be trying to find ways of killing the bill.
The row erupted as No 10 braced itself for a loss of face as up to 150 Tory MPs prepare to show their opposition to the prime minister during a series of votes when the marriage (same sex couples) bill reaches its report stage in the Commons late Monday.
At least two cabinet ministers - the environment secretary Owen Paterson and the Wales secretary David Jones - are prepared to vote for a series of amendments that would grant exemptions to teachers and registrars.
Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, and John Hayes, Cameron’s unofficial envoy to the Tory right, may also side with the bill’s opponents during a series of votes. Government sources said the warnings were aimed at Ed Miliband, Labour’s leader, whose support for the amendment will be decisive. GNS