David Cameron has promised MPs a free vote on repealing the ban on foxhunting, saying it has “done nothing for animal welfare” and has harmed a traditional rural way of life.

Mr Cameron’s comments are particularly a pitch for rural votes in southwest England, one of the most electorally important parts of Britain, where the Conservatives hope to seize seats from the Liberal Democrats.

Writing in the Western Morning News, the prime minister said people in the countryside should have “the freedom to hunt” and that he shared “the frustration” of people with the ban, introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government a decade ago.

Mr Cameron’s comments are unlikely to herald an early repeal of the hunting ban — except in the unlikely event that the Conservatives win a big overall majority in May’s general election.

Most Labour and Lib Dem MPs support the ban, as do some Tories. Mr Cameron proposed a free vote in the Commons in the 2010 election, but never called one, knowing he would lose.

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