As he relaxes on a Majorcan beach, David Cameron might find his mind wandering to his plans for next month’s reshuffle. The latest demand from ‘influential figures’ is, according to Tim Shipman in the Daily Mail, that he replace Europe Minister David Lidington with a more Eurosceptic minister. Supporting those influential figures from the sidelines is a hefty group of Conservative backbenchers who want to see a bit more welly on the European issue. Some of the names mooted by the Mail – Graham Brady and Mark Francois – would certainly do that but they are no friends of the current leadership.
Shipman’s story does not say whether Cameron will actually listen to those pushing him, but moving Lidington would be popular. He has aggravated colleagues by saying there was ‘no question’ of Britain leaving the EU, although this is the same line officially taken by the Prime Minister.
Cameron has always described himself as a ‘practical Eurosceptic’, a view that has been frequently challenged by his party. He has thrown meat to those who challenge him, most notably by exercising his veto in Brussels in December 2011. There is also William Hague’s review into the EU’s impact on everyday life. Although the wide-ranging report may not make any impact in this parliament, it has reassured his party the matter is not being ignored. But Cameron also more recently made clear that he would campaign for Britain to stay in Europe in the event of a referendum.
Still more effective than installing an anti-Europe minister for Europe would be a pledge for a referendum on the EU in the next Conservative election manifesto. This would hold enormous appeal for voters, as the People’s Pledge vote in two Lib Dem marginal constituencies demonstrated. With a higher turnout than this year’s local elections, over 86 per cent in both constituencies voted in favour of a referendum. A new Angus Reid poll today also shows that only 26 per cent would vote to stay in the EU and 54 per cent have a negative perception of our relationship with Brussels.
Ed Miliband also has a great opportunity to pip Cameron here by promising a referendum first. While his party is also divided on Europe, there is less rancour to deal with, and he does not have the added complication of a pro-Europe coalition partner. The Prime Minister will be wary of this threat fro the left as he mulls over the reshuffle this summer.Tags: David Cameron, David Lidington, EU referendum, European Uniojn, People's Pledge, UK politics