Amid the heated and seemingly endless speculation about which Cabinet ministers might back Leave or Remain, so far the question of how junior ministers might swing has been somewhat neglected.
The ‘big beasts’ at the top of the Government are important, but it would be a mistake to ignore their less senior colleagues. For a start, there are a lot more of them, so there is a much bigger pool of possible recruits for the Leave camp. Furthermore, they are mostly relatively early on in their parliamentary careers, so they may well feel more free to dissent from the leadership’s line, given that they are less closely bound in to Cameron himself. Finally, while they may lack the clout and authority of the Cabinet, they have a different kind of appeal – they tend to be somewhat younger (and more female), offering an opportunity to cast them as representatives of an up and coming generation, the leaders of the future. Penny Mordaunt, who is touted as a Leaver in today’s Sun, gets just such a billing.
Some are no doubt still undecided and plenty of others are withholding judgement until the Prime Minister formally presents his final deal – but there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to encourage as many as possible to support Leave.
Much of the action appears to be going on within the Fresh Start Group, which was launched in 2011 to press for EU reform, and which retains many members from the 2010 intake who are now ministers.
The dynamics are complex, but it’s worth watching figures like Andrea Leadsom (a co-founder of Fresh Start) and Dominic Raab (who has repeatedly raised concerns about measures like the European Arrest Warrant, and worked with Leadsom on aspects of Fresh Start’s campaigning) to see where they end up. Ministers like these are very capable and serious performers, who would be a serious asset to the Leave campaign.
ConservativeHome has learned that Leave-minded junior ministers have a room in Parliament booked on Monday evening. By then, if not before, we will know where they stand.