Owen Paterson, the Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said Monday morning that members of the Cabinet should be allowed to vote for Britain to leave the European Union without fearing for their jobs.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today Programme, Paterson said that there should be “collective responsibility” among the Cabinet while Prime Minister David Cameron is trying to renegotiate Britain’s membership with the EU, so they shouldn’t speak out until the renegotiation finishes sometime in February 2016.
But even if Cameron is successful in getting what he wants, Paterson says that Cabinet Ministers should be able to campaign to leave the EU because the renegotiation demands are so “incredibly thin” in the first place.
Here is what Paterson told the BBC [emphasis ours]:
Once it’s presented to the people [the renegotiation package], it will be wholly incredible for, considering how incredibly thin, well first of all the prime minister’s demands are and what he’s likely to be granted by the other 27, it would be wholly incredible for some figures of the cabinet to campaign for that so personally I think they should be allowed to keep their place, but to campaign for whichever side they think is appropriate.
Paterson warned that if the Cabinet isn’t allowed to campaign according to their consciences it would lead to resignations — something the government doesn’t want with a “Marxist” Labour party in opposition.
If they’re not allowed to campaign from within, then cabinet ministers should resign, that’s quite clear. But I think it would be much better for the government [to allow free campaigning], because everyone’s got to come together after the referendum… we have the horror of a batty, lurching, Marxist Labour party as an alternative.
Paterson’s comments follow the call made by Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox on Sunday for cabinet ministers to be allowed to campaign openly to leave the EU.
You can watch Fox making his comments on The Andrew Marr Show below:
For some government Ministers, the issue of whether Britain stays in or leaves the European Union is more important than whether they get to keep their jobs. That’s why the government is in such a tricky position. Cameron could look weak and his part divided if he allows members of his own cabinet to say his renegotiation wasn’t good enough and Britain needs to leave the EU. But forcing members of the cabinet out of their jobs will make the government look even more weak and divided.
Paterson and Fox are able to speak out now because they are no longer Ministers. It will be interesting to see how long it takes before Eurosceptic Ministers start speaking out on this issue for themselves.
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