Has our PM always meant to do a deal with Blairites over EU? asks Peter Oborne

This fascinating article by Peter Oborne was in the Mail on Sunday.

“About time too! David Cameron has at last had an attack of good sense.cameronfatFor the past year, he fought to prevent Conservative ministers from revealing their private views about Britain’s membership of the EU.

Stubbornly, he was determined to silence Eurosceptics in his Cabinet by threatening them with the sack if they wanted to tell the truth about where they stood on a political issue that is one of the biggest for generations.georgemandy2Mr Cameron was guilty of blatant double standards. He was more than happy to let ministers who support our continued membership of the EU express their minds freely. But he was determined to muzzle those who took the contrary view.

If the PM had continued this policy, it would have led to a paralysis of his government in the run-up to this year’s referendum. He would have exiled certain ministers and replaced them with obedient time-servers.

For months, the Mail has been urging the Prime Minister to do the right thing in this matter of momentous national importance. Yet he arrogantly refused to listen.

We pointed out that the referendum on British membership of the EU is the most important vote since Britain elected to stay in what was then known as the Common Market, more than 40 years ago.

The PM seemed unable to concede this fundamental argument.

But on an issue as vital as this, it is essential that the debate should be held in the open, with no constraints and no double standards.

Finally, yesterday, after months of using strong-arm methods to force ministers into line, he gave way. But this was only because a gun was held to his head by Eurosceptic Cabinet ministers led — to his credit — by Chris Grayling, Leader of the House of Commons.

Nevertheless, the PM deserves grudging respect for making, however belatedly, a decision which should be celebrated by everyone — whatever their view on the European issue — who believes in British democracy. His climbdown is of great importance because Britain is about to embark on a national debate that will determine our identity for the next 100 years.

Of course, supporters of our continued membership of the EU argue that Britain’s future can only be secured through being signed up to this trans-national organisation which is committed to obliterating ancient national identities.

They insist that we cannot survive on our own in an unfriendly world without the crutch of EU membership.

On the other hand, Eurosceptics believe that ultimately nothing matters more than British independence and our ability to make our own laws.

Both sides claim powerful, economic and moral arguments. They offer voters competing visions and rival values. Both argue that our nation will be irrevocably harmed if the referendum makes the wrong decision.

Whatever the ultimate truth, both sides can agree on one thing: that the British people must now face up to one of the most important decisions in our long history.

The truth is that the referendum has the potential to be one of the great liberating moments for our country.

For the past three decades, our entire political discourse has been poisoned by bitter squabbling about Britain’s relations with Europe.

Now we have the chance to clear the air once and for all.

Furthermore, the moment is now imminent, with the decision day expected at the next EU summit in Brussels in the middle of next month. I understand that Mr Cameron told Eurosceptic Cabinet ministers over the weekend that they need only wait till then to learn the details of his negotiation.

After that date, they would be free to make their views on British membership of the EU plain for all to see.

This argument by the PM, I am assured, proved decisive in dissuading mutinous ministers from resignation. Events are now moving at lightning speed. A deal for Britain’s continued membership will be struck in Brussels. The Prime Minister will then announce the new terms of British membership to the British Parliament.

After that, the starting gun for the European referendum will be fired.

Mr Cameron and George Osborne are determined that the vote will be held in July — even though Electoral Commission regulations state that no referendum can be held until the autumn, at the earliest. Downing Street is determined to ride roughshod over the Commission. It will be fascinating to see if it has the power to do so.

Whatever the date of the poll, every politician will examine his or her conscience, and make a career-defining decision.

Will Theresa May stay true to the logic of her Tory conference speech when she warned that the EU prevented Britain from controlling migration — and place herself at the head of the Leave campaign?

Will Boris Johnson opportunistically show disloyalty to Mr Cameron and use the debate as a cover to launch his campaign for the Tory leadership?

For make no mistake, with Mr Cameron having already signalled that he won’t be standing for re-election as Prime Minister in 2020, the EU referendum offers the perfect chance for those who want to succeed him to make their pitch.

These are not decisions that can be put off much longer.

For the Conservative Party, this is therefore an especially perilous moment. According to one recent opinion poll, 75 per cent of Tory members are strongly opposed to British membership of the EU. Probably around 50 per cent of backbench Conservative MPs will campaign for the No argument.

Intriguingly, these rebels will find themselves working alongside Ukip spokesmen. They may find their new allies all too congenial. Meanwhile, in another delicious twist, pro-EU Tories will find themselves on the same platforms as senior Labour politicians — Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Hilary Benn, David and Ed Miliband, and so forth. Indeed, they are likely to discover that they agree about much more than they differ.

Most importantly, there is every possibility that the divisions over Europe will result in a permanent split in the Tory Party, and perhaps a genuinely seismic shift.

Who could rule out the possibility of a merger between the Blairite wing of the Labour Party and Cameron’s Tories, particularly in view of the former’s antipathy to a Labour Party run by Jeremy Corbyn and his hard-Left supporters?

There is a historical precedent. It is highly relevant that Harold Wilson’s Labour Party split badly after the 1975 referendum on Europe and the issue was the key factor in the decision by top Labour figures such as Roy Jenkins to set up the Social Democratic Party —leaving Labour out of government for 18 years.

Fully mindful of this, David Cameron’s wise decision yesterday makes the prospect of a Tory Party break-up far less likely. By allowing ministers freedom of conscience, he has enabled them to be true to their beliefs without imperilling their careers.

However, a word of warning. Although the PM’s climbdown is welcome, it should nevertheless be regarded with suspicion.

Mr Cameron has shown again and again that he wants to skew the EU debate in favour of British membership. He only backed down yesterday under extreme duress. Also, there are widespread concerns that he will be urged to take revenge later, in a post-referendum reshuffle.

That would provoke the Tory civil war that the Prime Minister wants to avoid. Or does he?

In fact, many believe that Mr Cameron has always planned to use the referendum as a means of purging his party of the members he doesn’t like and cynically offering the opportunity for Blairites in Labour who disdain Mr Corbyn to form a pact with the Tories.

Politics can be an ugly game and this story is only just beginning.”

2 responses to “Has our PM always meant to do a deal with Blairites over EU? asks Peter Oborne

  1. This would be an absolute betrayal! To ignore wishes of majority of Tories, who want Brexit and side with Blairites….. PM should resign.

  2. Pingback: Why the PM’s arguments for REMAIN don’t stack up | CYBERBORISjohnson

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