Advertisement

'Leave EU' ministers say it is unsustainable for them to keep quiet

Credit: PA

There is zero chance of cabinet unity on the prime minister's EU deal holding till the summit on February 18.

I am told that with or without the approval of David Cameron, one or more of the cabinet ministers who want the UK to leave the EU will break ranks and reveal that they reject the putative new settlement.

Why? Because, as I said on News at Ten last night, they feel the PM yesterday broke the gentleman's agreement that there would be no campaigning before the summit.

"The prime minister asked us to keep a respectful silence", said a source close to one senior minister. "But then he effectively launched the 'Remain' campaign at the press conference [in Chippenham].

"We were kept in the dark about it. It was a kick in the teeth".

At the press conference the Prime Minister said he would campaign passionately to stay in the EU on the basis of the new settlement, which was good for the UK's prosperity and security.

The source added that it was completely unsustainable for those ministers who want to leave the EU to keep quiet for the next two and a half weeks.

"We would lose all credibility" the source said. "So silence is not an option."

Discussions are going on about who breaks ranks first and how.

The prime minister is to address parliament with the details of the framework deal for the UK's new relationship with the EU Credit: Yui Mok / PA

At 12.30 today the prime minister will address the Commons on the details of the framework deal.

One eurosceptic member of the government said it was humiliating for "leave" ministers to have to sit on the Commons benches in stony faced silence.

The ministers who would favour leaving the EU include Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa Villiers and Priti Patel.

In cabinet yesterday, David Cameron asked Chris Grayling, leader of the house, in response to a question about when collective cabinet responsibility on the EU would be suspended, to "hold firm for a bit longer", adding that "we all know where you stand on this".

At the cabinet meeting, there was "no acrimony", said a minister. There has been plenty of acrimony since.

UPDATE 11.33

So in the spectrum of anger with David Cameron among "leave EU" ministers, Iain Duncan Smith is most furious and Chris Grayling least - I am told.

Both however will campaign for Brexit.

But I understand that they have reacted in different ways to the barrage of criticism of the prime minister in today's press.

Duncan Smith feels media criticism of Cameron puts moral pressure on the "leave" ministers to speak out, whereas Grayling sees the press as putting more than adequate pressure on the prime minister without the need for him and his estranged ministerial colleagues to do more.

What is probably crucial for all of them however is that the cabinet meeting to approve the new EU settlement should be held within hours of EU leaders agreeing the deal - so either the evening of February 19 or the morning of February 20.

Because it is the cabinet meeting that would trigger the end of collective cabinet responsibility on Europe, and messrs Duncan Smith, Grayling, Patel and Villiers would then have prime ministerial permission to speak their minds.

"What we can't have is any delay, even a weekend, in holding the cabinet meeting, because if that happened the prime minister would be all over the airwaves selling the deal while we had to keep quiet", said a source.

More on this story