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Osborne 'cowardly' over fuel U-turn
George Osborne announced in the House of Commons that the planned 3p hike in fuel duty would be delayed
Chancellor George Osborne has been branded an "arrogant coward" by a Conservative backbencher after sending a junior Treasury minister into the TV studios to defend his £550 million decision to delay the 3p hike in fuel duty.
Labour said the Chancellor had "hid away" after making the surprise announcement to the House of Commons that the rise planned for August would be held back at least until January, apparently without warning colleagues.
But Prime Minister David Cameron dismissed the charge, saying it was right for Mr Osborne to announce his decisions on taxation to MPs in Parliament.
At Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, Labour leader Ed Miliband mocked Mr Cameron over the decision, which he branded "another case of panic at the pumps".
Eyebrows were raised around Westminster when the Chancellor made his announcement, as it came just a day after the Transport Secretary Justine Greening publicly defended the rise and hours after Labour's Ed Balls demanded that it be stopped.
And junior Treasury minister Chloe Smith fuelled suspicions that it came as a surprise to ministers when she repeatedly declined to say when she first learned about it in a widely-criticised interview on BBC2's Newsnight.
Conservative MP Nadine Dorries - a vocal critic of the Tory leadership - was scathing about Mr Osborne's decision not to take to the airwaves himself to defend his decision.
In a series of messages on Twitter, Ms Dorries wrote: "If Osborne sent Chloe on re scrapping 3p he is a coward as well as arrogant. Newsnight last night would have been a tough gig for a minister with years of experience - Chloe is a good egg and didn't deserve that."
Mr Miliband seized on the tweets, telling the Prime Minister it was "no wonder" Ms Dorries had called the Chancellor a coward. But the Prime Minister insisted the coalition was "defusing Labour's tax bombshell".
He told MPs: "The fuel duty increase was a Labour tax rise. It cannot be a U-turn to get rid of a Labour tax increase. They put in place 12 increases on fuel duty in government. They left behind six increases in fuel duty and I'm proud of the fact we are dealing with them."