Paterson isn’t entirely correct – it seems anti-EU ministers will simply be obliged to say that the government’s position is different from their own, and would have to be silent in this so-called “setpiece” debate.
But let him carry on. He’ll stir up more resentment against Cameron and his gang among the back benches, and that can only be good for the UK in the long run.
Eurosceptic cabinet ministers will be “gagged” by David Cameron during the EU referendum campaign in spite of his decision to lift collective responsibility to allow frontbenchers to campaign on either side, the former environment minister Owen Paterson has said.
As the prime minister urged cabinet ministers to act as a “united, harmonious, mutually respectful team” during the referendum, Paterson said pro-EU ministers would enjoy far greater freedoms.
Cameron released a personal minute to all ministers on Monday setting out the ground rules for the campaign period. The new rules would kick in after a cabinet meeting that would be convened once the prime minister secures a deal on reforms at an EU summit.
Cameron said all ministers would be obliged to defend government policy from the frontbench in parliament even if they exercise their right to campaign to leave the EU.
But he said he would apply the rules in a flexible and commonsense way and would not expect ministers campaigning to leave the EU to contradict their position in parliament.
This would mean that a minister opposed to EU membership would be free to explain their thinking if they were questioned on their position in parliament. But they would then have to say – assuming that the prime minister has successfully negotiated a deal with EU leaders – that the government is committed to campaigning to remain in the EU.
Ministers campaigning to leave would also not be free to set out their thinking on either the front or backbenches during a setpiece debate on the EU. The prime minister is applying in what he regards as a flexible way the rule that all ministers should speak from the frontbench in support of government policy.
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