Which Cabinet Ministers would like Britain to leave the EU?  ConservativeHome counts –

  • In the first rank, Ian Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and Theresa Villiers.
  • In the second, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, Oliver Letwin and John Whittingdale.
  • In the third – very much possibles rather than certains – Michael Fallon, Justine Greening, and Theresa May.
  • P.S: Since capture by the Foreign Office, Philip Hammond now seems set on Remain.

So which of these are most likely to resign if David Cameron insists (unwisely in our view) on Ministers supporting his position after a deal – which could come as soon as February?  Our best estimate is as follows:

  • Duncan Smith, Grayling and Villiers are the most likely to quit.  All have served in the Cabinet for a substantial period, are unlikely to gain further promotion under this leadership and, not least, have committed Eurosceptic views.
  • Patel has a long record as Eurosceptic – she was briefly a member of the Referendum Party – and although May does not she appears to have become increasingly preoccupied with controlling Britain’s borders.  Furthermore, the Home Secretary has reached the zenith of her preferment under Cameron and is unlikely to prosper under an Osborne leadership.
  • Gove seems to feel constrained by his friendship with the Prime Minister (who has none the less not always treated him well) and Letwin by his code of loyalty to the leadership.  Javid may well be daunted by committing himself to what is, on balance, the cause more likely to lose the referendum than win it.
  • Below Cabinet level, Ministers with a particular Eurosceptic record or views include Therese Coffey, George Eustice, Mark Francois, John Hayes, Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab.

So should those who want Britain to Leave resign from the Government, perhaps first thing in the New Year?

A case for is that the referendum campaign has in effect begun and that, if Ministers who support Leave only do so after a deal in February, their intervention will come too late to help change enough minds and win enough votes.

The case against is that were all the Leave-supporting Ministers to quit, Cameron would then have no need to offer them a free vote – which it should do.

Furthermore, it may be that George Osborne, in particular, would relish a future in which those pesky Outers had exiled themselves voluntarily from government.

Such a Government would, in terms of representing Conservative opinion, be extremely unbalanced.  This would have serious implications for the Party’s effectiveness, morale and unity.

I can see the case for a dramatic move to shift the polls, but the cause of a free vote is worth digging in for.