With campaigns surrounding the EU referendum already under way, George Perfect assesses the dangers for David Cameron in his cabinet and party.
As the UK’s EU referendum draws ever closer, it appears that David Cameron is going to start laying down the law with his cabinet. In a recent cabinet memo, the prime minister told the cabinet that they should remain “a united, harmonious, [and] mutually respectful team.” However, Mr Cameron says that his cabinet are free to join either side of the debate – potentially causing a split between members of the cabinet.
Many believe that Mr Cameron should remain completely independent, and should not take sides with either the “Remain” or “Leave” campaigns. However, it would be better if the PM was totally free, along with his cabinet, to take any side that he wishes to in the referendum campaign, so that people can campaign for what they truly believe in, rather than tow the party line.
The referendum looks like it is going to be an interesting piece of UK history. On 5th June 1975, a referendum on the same topic was held. However, Ted Heath’s camp remained totally with the EEC, whilst Harold Wilson, trying to control a divided Labour Party, said it would be best for people to make their own decision at the ballot box. 67% of the population agreed with the EEC; this time however, there is a big change, with the population very much sceptical of Europe. Now, the tables have turned: it is the Conservatives who are divided on Europe, with Labour wanting to stay. The cabinet could prove to be a pivotal factor within the Tories however, as the decisions of key individuals within the cabinet hold a large sway over deferential backbenchers.
Cameron has been forced to give a free vote as his ministers have wildly opposing views. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, is a self-confessed fan of Brexit, putting him directly at odds with the prime minister. In the meantime, outgoing Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, appears to be supporting a UK exit, with him stating that we are getting the least out of the Union than ever before.
The Leave.EU campaign has started to grow in recent months, with over 531 Conservative councillors deciding to join the movement. It is also clear that many Conservative MPs support a “Brexit”– nearly 200 Tory MPs are leaning towards being part of Brexit movements. This statistic is extremely problematic for The Prime Minister, because it could split the Conservative Party. With only a tiny majority, this referendum could also cause issues for the Conservative Party’s Commons hold, as it would become increasingly difficult for the Commons to pass Europe-related government bills, if many MPs consistently rebel.
Another cause for concern for David Cameron within the cabinet is when the referendum will be held. Should his reforms be completed next month, many leading ministers will make a call for him to delay the date of the referendum, so that the “Leave” campaign can get its act together. However, it is believed that Cameron and Osborne will want the referendum to be held by the end of the year. If the expected 200 opposing MPs have anything to do with this, the setting of a date could turn out to be a long and arduous process.
Whatever the result of the ongoing negotiations, this could be a tricky and worrying year for the Conservative Party. Up until now, the party has been united on the most recent issues, while Labour is in a state of chaos after the election of Corbyn. The result of the referendum will have implications for years – and could be the most decisive factor in the election in 2020.