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PM urged to allow EU No campaign

Published 31/05/2015

John Redwood said that when the referendum comes, ministers would campaign in the way that they saw fit - even if it meant losing their jobs
John Redwood said that when the referendum comes, ministers would campaign in the way that they saw fit - even if it meant losing their jobs

David Cameron is coming under renewed pressure to allow ministers to campaign for Britain to leave the European Union in his promised in/out referendum on the UK's continued membership.

Senior Conservative figures on both sides of the debate warned that Mr Cameron will struggle to hold his Government together unless he allows minsters the freedom to act with their consciences.

The Prime Minister has insisted that ministers would be expected to campaign for a "yes" vote if he recommends the country accepts the outcome of his re-negotiation of UK membership terms which he is now embarking upon.

However, former cabinet minister and arch Eurosceptic John Redwood said that when the referendum comes, ministers would act in the way that they saw fit - even if it meant losing their jobs.

"Of course they should be free to campaign as they see fit and they will be free to campaign as they see fit. The only issue is whether they are asked to leave their government positions before they do it or not," he told Sky News's Murnaghan programme.

"This is so fundamental. What is the point of being a minister if you are charged, for example, with getting immigration down but the European Union won't let you do it.

"If you are faced with that situation the only honest thing to do is to campaign for a change in the arrangement or to campaign for out."

His comments were echoed by the veteran pro-European Ken Clarke who said that Eurosceptic ministers like Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith could not be expected to support a "yes" vote.

"There will be Conservatives campaigning on both sides," he told the BBC1 Sunday Politics programme.

"It is up to David how he wants to run his Cabinet. I would advise him to let Cabinet ministers campaign on both sides because Iain Duncan Smith and I are not going to be on the same side.

"Iain Duncan Smith and I have both actually been committed to party unity overall. We differ on Europe. The referendum is meant to be a way of letting us resolve that in a civilised way.

"I would let the Eurosceptics have a kind of free exercise in campaigning in the referendum."

Mr Clarke, however, dismissed demands by Tory Eurosceptics like former defence secretary Liam Fox for Mr Cameron to seek the repatriation of powers from Brussels as part of his re-negotiation, insisting it was not on the table.

"He is not asking to repatriate any powers," he said. "Most of the people demanding the repatriation of powers can't think of any or want to repatriate powers that would lead, for example, to an inability to tackle international crime."

Meanwhile Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed concern that Mr Cameron was taking the UK "perilously close to the exit door" from Europe.

She confirmed that SNP MPs at Westminster would seek to amend the Government's EU Referendum Bill so that Britain could only leave if there were separate majorities in favour of the move in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

"I think what is dangerous about the approach David Cameron is taking right now is that he is taking the UK perilously close to the exit door and I think that's wrong," she told the Murnaghan programme.

On the Eurosceptic side, Ukip MP Douglas Carswell called on the inventor and entrepreneur Sir James Dyson to head up the "no" campaign.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics that it was essential that the case for leaving the EU was made "in a really positive way".

"We mustn't ever make arguments that are angry or nativist or unpleasant or divisive," he said.

"We've got to make people realise that the reason why we're Eurosceptics is because we think that this country could be so much better and being better means being more internationalist, more open to the world."

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