There is a view among some Brexit backers that Remain is halfway round the world before Leave has even got its boots on. The latest big voice to speak out for Britain staying in the EU is William Hague’s – sounding out in the Daily Telegraph this morning.
One possible solution is that Ministers who support Brexit should resign in the New Year, in order to make the case for leaving the EU. But that would leave a Government of Conservatives who want to remain and a membership of Tories who want to leave, with many MPs somewhere in between.
That wouldn’t exactly be a recipe for orderly management. And in any event, it would take the pressure off David Cameron to free Ministers to follow their convictions – which is the right outcome both in principle and practice (at least, if one wants to maintain party unity).
So on the one hand, jumping the gun doesn’t look at all wise. On the other, simply doing nothing doesn’t either. But there is a third way.
First thing in the New Year, Iain Duncan Smith should give an interview/write an article/make a speech, of which the three main points would be as follows:
- The Government’s renegotiation isn’t complete yet, and Ministers should wait for a final view until it is…
- …But as matters stand now Britain’s membership is problematic, and we would be better off out…
- …And we should therefore Leave if all these problems aren’t solved.
Such an intervention would be read correctly as a statement of intent, and provide some of the momentum which Leave supporters want to see.
I cite Duncan Smith only because he is the most senior Out supporter in Cabinet. I might as well write Chris Grayling, or Theresa Villiers, or… but you get the point. These others could do the same, say, a week later.
David Cameron would then have to decide whether or not to sack the Ministers in question. To do so would be not so much a statement of intent as a declaration of hostilities – rather a risky enterprise to hazard with a formal majority of only 12.
A more likely consequence would be for him to grant the “free vote” that he is likely to do anyway earlier than would otherwise be the case. Which would be good for Leave, party unity, and democratic debate.