LONDON, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he will permit cabinet ministers to campaign for an exit from the European Union prior to a referendum that could take place this summer.
Cameron, who supports Britain staying in the EU, made his announcement at an East London construction site Monday, with a more formal declaration expected Tuesday in Parliament. He is currently renegotiating Britain’s membership in the EU, prior to putting the matter to British voters in a referendum that will ask whether they want the UK to remain a member of the EU or not. The vote could come as early as this summer.
Cabinet ministers can voice their opinions and campaign for or against an exit from the European bloc, as long as they do not challenge Cameron’s authority as prime minister. It is considered a risky move, but had Cameron insisted on a unified front of ministers, he likely would have had to fire anyone disagreeing with him.
Matthew Elliott of Vote Leave, organizers of the referendum campaign for Britain’s exit from the EU, commented, “The referendum could be as little as 170 days away, so ministers should be allowed to campaign openly as soon as the renegotiation is complete, and certainly no later than the end of the European Council in February. The British people deserve to hear where their elected representatives stand on this vitally important issue. We’ve had lots of useful meetings with government ministers and look forward to working with them much more closely now.”
The British government is seeking changes in its EU membership, notably one that would limit access to welfare benefits by refugees who enter the EU and arrive in Britain. Although most people polled favor staying in the EU, recent surveys have indicated the gap between those who want to stay and those who want to leave is narrowing.
By Ed Adamczyk