Britain was last night at the centre of a row for being the only senior member of the European commission to reject plans for a Europe-wide car-free day on September 22.

France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have welcomed the idea but the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, has indicated that the government will not back it. The Department of Transport said last night: “We are not supporting the plan, but local authorities in the UK will no doubt be running with their own events.” It claimed people would quickly forget “one event on one day”.

So far five local authorities are known to be backing the scheme: Camden in north London, Dover, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Poole.