Rebel British lawmakers refused to be tamed Thursday, defying Prime Minister David Cameron by backing calls for a ban on the use of wild animals in circus shows.
Cameron's government had insisted it would not consider imposing restrictions, as they would contravene European laws and likely prompt a protracted legal battle.
Legislators, however, agreed to back a House of Commons motion that demanded a change in the law to ban the use of lions, tigers and other animals by circuses. Although a decision by legislators to support the motion won't force the government to agree to a ban, it is likely to prove a source of embarrassment to Cameron.
Animal rights groups say around 40 wild animals are used in three circuses that tour Britain.
Conservative Party lawmaker Mark Pritchard, who introduced the motion calling for the ban, made a rare public attack on Cameron, his party's leader, over the issue.
He alleged Cameron's aides had attempted to cajole -- and then threaten -- him into ditching his proposal.
"I was offered incentive and reward on Monday, then it was ratcheted up last night when I was threatened," he told the House of Commons.
"I was told that unless I withdraw this motion, that the prime minister himself said he would look upon it very dimly indeed," said the lawmaker, who acknowledged his stance would likely ruin any prospect of promotion.
Cameron's office didn't immediately offer a response to Pritchard's claims.
Ministers have previously explained that the legal advisers have warned a ban on the use of animals would be regarded as disproportionate under European Union regulations covering small businesses, and potentially under human rights law.
Some lawmakers appealed to ministers to show more compassion toward animals used be circuses.
Retired Col. Bob Stewart, a former army officer and Conservative legislator, said he had rescued a bear while he commanded United Nations forces in Bosnia.
"I found a bear in a cage in no man's land. He had been left there for four weeks without water, he was entirely miserable (and) wouldn't even be coaxed out of his cage by honey," Stewart said.
Stewart said soldiers were eventually able to move the bear to Croatia, and that the animal was later moved to the Netherlands.
"He's now in Amsterdam Zoo and full of life. I fully support the idea of banning animals in cages," Stewart said.