Brexit debate: As cabinet ministers demand to campaign for No, will Cameron’s authority collapse because of EU referendum?

Europe has divided the Conservatives like no other issue (Source: Getty)

Chris Rumfitt, founder and chief executive of Corporate Reputation Consulting, says Yes

Since John Major lashed out at his own cabinet back in 1993, Europe has divided the Conservatives like no other issue.

From being a minority pursuit back then, hardline euroscepticism is now the mainstream position within the party.

But some cabinet ministers want to go further and actively campaign for the UK to leave the EU, creating a huge headache for the Prime Minister.

Collective cabinet responsibility lies at the heart of our system of government.

If it didn’t apply on this huge issue, why would it apply to smaller ones?

And given how rancorous Conservative debates on Europe are, what would voters make of, for example, the foreign secretary campaigning one way, and the chancellor the other?

Once the genie of infighting is out the bottle, it will never return.

Given that David Cameron doesn't plan to stick around much beyond the referendum, maybe he doesn’t care.

But he ought to – the consequence of the referendum will be a poisoned chalice for his successor and could play a big part in defining his legacy.

Laura Swire, director of Hanover Communications, says No

A tiny majority, a fractious party, cabinet ministers in revolt, lacklustre renegotiations.

Harold Wilson certainly faced problems ahead of the 1975 referendum.

That he emerged with strengthened authority and enhanced popularity is surely the model David Cameron seeks to emulate.

Nothing strengthens a Prime Minister more than a demonstration of public support, and the odds are that the referendum result will back his renegotiation.

As a defeated Tony Benn said in ‘75, “When the British people speak, everyone, including MPs, should tremble before their decision”.

The referendum could put to bed Tory divisions on Europe for years to come.

Until then, Cameron is smart enough to make sufficient compromises to maintain party unity.

With Labour divided and Jeremy Corbyn ambivalent towards membership, the way is clear for Cameron to be the moderate voice leading the cross-party In campaign.

The referendum could secure his legacy as the Prime Minister who saved the union, kept Britain in, and consigned Labour to electoral irrelevance.

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