Keeping the Cabinet on the Leash
Taking sides on the EU debate is already causing controversy for Cameron.
The dominant story over the weekend was that the Prime Minister is facing an increasingly organised and loud group of backbench Conservative MPs that are openly calling for Britain’s exit from the EU. Following the election the focus on the astonishing majority overshadowed its incredibly slim margin. Events like this are therefore, significantly more sensitive for David Cameron.
Cameron, keen to appear tough and in control, reportedly delivered a warning to his Cabinet that they must be in favour of staying in if they want to keep their jobs. It has since been reported that these comments were misinterpreted but uncertainty still looms. What’s certain is that such red lines almost certainly irritate backbenchers. Some have already stated that the issue should be a free vote, and disagreement on this risks widening the rift between the Cabinet and backbenchers.
Cameron’s believes the public gave his party a mandate to try and reform the EU and implement a referendum. He therefore feels his Cabinet has an obligation to fight fully for renegotiation for as long as that avenue remains open. However, how far can this loyalty be stretched? It is not an unreasonable position for a Cabinet member to feel, having exhausted the renegotiation option, British exit is the right course. Would Cameron still uphold the potential red line in that scenario? He has himself been vague on his own position failing renegotiation – some Cabinet members might prefer to jump the sinking ship instead of going down with Cameron if the mood of the party and public swings against it in the event of no concession from the EU.