THE BLOG

Allowing the Cabinet to Campaign and Vote Freely on the EU Referendum Is a Wise and Courageous Decision

06/01/2016 08:52 GMT | Updated 05/01/2017 10:12 GMT

With the Prime Minister likely to get a final deal on his EU renegotiation at the EU Council on 18/19 February, it made perfect sense for him to put an end to speculation over whether ministers would be subject to collective responsibility or not.

The Prime Minister made a wise decision to allow ministers to campaign for either side on the EU Referendum, just as Wilson did in 1975. It didn't lead to huge splits - the issue was debated and resolved, and the Labour Government carried on for another four years.

The Conservative Party is Eurosceptic by nature. As a Party that values freedom and independence so highly, it is little wonder that two thirds of its members want to leave the unelected, undemocratic and bureaucratic EU.

And, just as Party members are sceptical of the emerging EU superstate, so too are many ministers.

Mr Cameron was sensible and enlightened to allow his ministers the freedom to campaign on whichever side they desire. It took courage and sound political nous.

His decision is in the best interests of the Conservative Party as he has saved the need for principled Eurosceptic ministers to have to resign in order to campaign to leave, which would cause difficulties to both the Government and Party.

His decision is also in the best interest of democratic politics more generally. The last thing an already cynical public want to see are the most senior politicians forced to back something they simply do not believe in, on such a massive issue of principle, just in the name of collective responsibility. There is a big enough democratic deficit and distrust of politicians as there is.

Slavish, unquestioning Europhiles like Tim Farron take the view that all Government ministers must agree on everything in a North Korean-type fashion, and seems very proud of the fact "the Liberal Democrats are the only Party united in the case to Remain".

It may be worth pointing out to Mr Farron that it is relatively simple to achieve unity in a Party of eight MPs and one MEP.

The Conservative Party has 330 MPs and 19 MEPs so it is a much broader church.

It has been more than 40 years since the British public have had a say on Britain's membership of the EU and attempts by the likes of Mr Farron who do not seek any change whatsoever in our current relationship with the EU - and are more Euronationalist even than Labour - are keen to stifle debate on this crucial issue. Europhiles on the Left seem to think their job is to represent the EU to the British people not the British people to the EU.

This week, the Prime Minister has rightly given the opportunity to senior Conservatives to follow their conviction and conscience.

This year is crucial in determining the future of the UK. Yesterday's announcement is an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the decision that the British public will make. This is the biggest issue of our political generation, and we need a factual, friendly and unfettered debate.

I believe Britain will thrive outside of the EU, be more global and less regional, and be freer, happier and more prosperous out. I look forward to a number of senior ministers joining the Vote Leave campaign next month.

David Campbell Bannerman is Co-Chairman of Conservatives for Britain