David Cameron confirms ministerial freedom on Brexit campaigning

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has done the right thing in absolving ministers of 'collective responsibility' on the upcoming EU referendum, says UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

By Colin Mackay

06 Jan 2016

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has confirmed that ministers in his government will be allowed to adopt individual positions during the forthcoming in-out referendum campaign on Britain's EU membership. 

This runs counter to the long-standing UK convention of 'collective responsibility', where members of the cabinet (senior ministers) must publicly support all governmental decisions made, irrespective of their personal opinion. 

It is understood that a number of cabinet members are avowedly Eurosceptic, and threatened to resign if not permitted to campaign openly for Brexit, forcing Cameron's hand. 


This raises the scenario where UK cabinet ministers will openly campaign for Brexit even before Cameron's renegotiation with EU leaders is concluded. Given the indications of recent polls, showing that support for continuing membership is falling amongst businesses, it suggests Cameron may face difficulties in winning his arguments internally and externally.

There is a precedent for this. In 1975, the then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson allowed members of his cabinet to campaign both for and against the referendum on the UK's continuing membership of the European Economic Community. That referendum was won comfortably, with the support of future UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, then leader of the Conservative Party opposition in the UK.

However, this latest example of abandoning collective responsibility represents a climb down from Cameron's earlier position. He had argued it would be better to conclude renegotiations before making a clear government recommendation ahead of the referendum. 

Cameron's decision was swiftly commented on by both the pro and anti EU camps, with former British MEP and EU constitutional expert Andrew Duff saying that, "Cameron's evident loss of control over his own party will further weaken his hand in this absurd Brexit negotiation."

Prominent Eurosceptic MP David Davis tweeted that, "the case for the EU is weakening by the day, and the case for exit is increasing."

UKIP leader Nigel Farage told Sky News that, "What the Prime Minister has done is the right thing, though he may be surprised at just how many cabinet ministers come out in support of leaving."

Farage added that Cameron's decision would also allow "a whole host of young MPs who want to have ministerial careers", but were unsure whether they should, "follow their conscience and support the out campaign or look after their long-term career prospects."

"I now think there will be a very large number of Conservative MPs that do support the leave campaign."

Prominent Eurosceptic MP David Davis tweeted that, "the case for the EU is weakening by the day, and the case for exit is increasing

Meanwhile, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, writing in British daily newspaper, the Guardian, said that, "Despite the economically illiterate central tenets of the leave campaign - that a Brexit will somehow enable Britain to 'go global' - it is striking that very few countries, if any, have been campaigning for Britain to leave the EU."

The leader of the European Parliament's Alliance of Liberals and Democrats grouping (ALDE) added that, " many British Conservative Eurosceptics recently argued for military intervention in Syria on the grounds that Britain should stand shoulder to shoulder with her allies, yet they and UKIP angrily dismiss calls from Britain's allies to stay in the EU as 'interfering' with British affairs." 

"This is hypocrisy", said Verhofstadt, warning, "It's time they face up to the fact that the only world leader supporting a British exit from the EU is Vladimir Putin."