Cabinet ministers are now free to campaign in the EU referendum, and inevitably the pro-Brexit bunch have all given interviews or penned pieces in the press about why they want to leave the European Union. Chris Grayling today tells the Sunday Times that David Cameron’s renegotiation ‘doesn’t go far enough’ and can be overturned by the European Parliament, and points out that for all the fuss about the emergency brake on migrant benefits, the introduction of the living wage will ‘boost the attraction of Britain as a place to come and work’. He also dismisses the assurances that Cameron is planning to set out on the sovereignty of Parliament, saying that Britain is ‘bound by treaty to the supremacy of European law’.
Meanwhile Priti Patel writes in the Mail on Sunday that ‘nothing will change’ if Britain stays in the EU ‘as no significant powers or competences have been returned to Britain’ and that the EU needs showing ‘that the British public cannot be treated like fools’. Sets out a new position for Britain in the world in which it reaches out to Commonwealth countries, the US and emerging markets.
More junior ministers who are members of the Fresh Start Group, including justice minister Dominic Raab and Andrea Leadsom, have also announced that they are campaigning for Leave. Raab writes in the Sunday Times that while he thinks ‘David Cameron fought hard for a better deal’ but that leaving ‘offers big opportunities for the little guy – the consumer, the small business owner, the family struggling with bill’. Zac Goldsmith has also said his vote will be to leave the EU.
This of course leaves Boris Johnson, not a Cabinet minister but far more prominent and attractive a prospect for campaign figurehead than any of his senior colleagues. We’re expecting the Mayor to articulate his decision – which he is believed to have now made – in his Telegraph column, which will go online later tonight.
What will be interesting is how personal this campaign gets. Inevitably some of the Outers have attacked the deal, with Grayling and Patel providing the strongest critique of its weaknesses. But as the referendum approaches, will they up their rhetoric on what Cameron achieved and what he’s claiming he achieved? And will those ministers who’ve decided to back staying in the EU face a barrage of accusations about putting their career ahead of principle? Cameron may also be looking for ministers to help him sell his deal – something Michael Fallon has tried to do in the Sunday Telegraph today – but his priority now will surely be to change the subject from the deal and start talking about Britain’s overall EU membership, especially given the deal doesn’t really change all that much about our overall membership anyway.