David Cameron is facing mounting pressure to grant his cabinet ministers a free vote to leave the European Union without the risk of losing their jobs.
The former Conservative leader Michael Howard has acknowledged it will be a ‘difficult time’ for the Conservatives as the EU has historically been a ‘very divisive issue’ for the party
But if they are to provide good government for the country post-referendum, it is essential they should embrace both sides of the EU argument, according to Lord Howard.
Michael Howard told BBC Radio 4: “When it comes to the campaign, if there are cabinet ministers who feel strongly to vote to leave the European Union, they should certainly be allowed to do so without fear of losing their seat in the cabinet.”
This comes after Lord Heseltine said the Prime Minister David Cameron would risk all-out ‘civil war’ in the Conservative party if he allowed his ministers a free vote on EU referendum.
He suggests it would be implausible and ‘naive’ to suggest that cabinet colleagues who voted on diametrically opposite sides of the EU debate would be able to sit ‘happily’ around the table together.
Lord Heseltine is a big supporter for the UK remaining in the EU and he argues, those MP’s in the cabinet who wanted to vote to leave should resign.
The former deputy prime minister told the BBC’s Radio 4 today programme: “There is a collective loyalty and the consequence of having a free vote, if you like, would be that the divisions, the divisiveness, the bitterness that would flow would actually, in my view, make the prime minister’s position very difficult.
Another Conservative grandee has also pitched into the EU in-or-out debate; John Major declared that Britain would be ‘less safe’, ‘less well-off’ and ‘less influential’ if it were to leave the EU.
Speaking last week on BBC Andrew Marr show, the former Conservative leader argued if they voted to leave, it would mean leaving EU permanently.
But there are some senior Tory figures who believe it would be in UK’s best interests to leave the European Union to stop mission creep of ever-closer integration.
David Cameron has said he plans to fundamentally change the UK’s relationship with EU for the better.
But Dr Liam Fox MP, who said he will vote for the UK to leave the EU, told the Sunday Times he predicted the Prime Minister would be only able to secure minor reforms from Europe.
The former defence secretary has urged the PM to end the farce of renegotiation and back an EU out campaign.
Liam Fox is most senior Conservative to declare to vote against Conservative policy of renegotiation and this highlights the deep divisions within the party.