David Cameron might have announced this week that Cabinet Ministers will be allowed to campaign for Out come the EU referendum. But Downing Street is doing what it can to limit how many ministers take up this offer.
At the moment, the consensus view around the Cabinet table is that four Cabinet Ministers are going to be for Out—Chris Grayling, Theresa Villiers, John Whittingdale and IDS—with another—Priti Patel—highly likely to. As I say in The Sun today, if Cameron can keep the number of Cabinet Outers down to four or five, Number 10 will be delighted. Cameron will be able to say that the vast majority of the Cabinet support staying In and he’ll have denied the Out campaign, the political leadership it needs.
So, Number 10 is putting pressure on other Eurosceptics to try and ensure that they don’t declare for Out come the end of the renegotiation. Interestingly, Number 10 is now far less worried about the prospect of Theresa May backing Out. Instead, attention has shifted to Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
Those close to Cameron think that Boris can be kept inside the tent by offering him a plum Cabinet job, hence the speculation about him being made Foreign Secretary, and by adopting some of his ideas for renegotiation.
With Gove, the plan is to play on his personal loyalty to Cameron and Osborne. Cameron’s circle were much struck by how a personal appeal from Cameron got Gove to go and back the renegotiation on the World at One after the December EU council despite his initial reluctance to do so and his doubts about the whole strategy. They believe that a similar approach can get Gove to back staying In once Cameron has done the deal with the rest of the EU.
The positions of Johnson and Gove matters so much because, as one undecided Cabinet Minister puts it, ‘There’s a safety in numbers thing going on. No one wants to be the only person standing next to Peter Bone. But if sensible people start breaking, there could be some momentum for Out and that’s what worries Number 10.’