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EU Referendum

So much for a free debate on the EU: Ministers hit the airwaves to back Brussels…while Eurosceptic colleagues are still gagged

  • The Foreign Secretary said he ‘can’t envisage’ campaigning to leave the EU
  • Treasury Secretary Greg Hands also praised EU rules on free movement
  • Eurosceptics are unhappy they face the sack if they speak in favour of exit
  • But their pro-European colleagues are free to speak out in favour of staying

Philip Hammond, a one-time Eurosceptic, said he was confident that the Prime Minister would secure a good deal to remain in the Brussels club, which he would then back.

At the same time, Treasury Secretary Greg Hands extolled the virtues of EU rules on free movement, saying migrant workers are a ‘fantastic thing to have’.

Eurosceptic ministers are unhappy that – while colleagues are free to make pro-EU comments – they face the sack if they speak in favour of leaving. So-called ‘collective responsibility’ on the topic will only be lifted once the Prime Minister’s negotiations are complete in February or March.

Free debate: Downing Street was accused of a referendum stitch-up after ministers made pro-EU statements in public, while Eurosceptics face the sack if they speak in favour of leaving


 In the meantime, any minister who publicly criticises the renegotiation or speaks in favour of Britain leaving could be disciplined. Tory high command is issuing regular instructions on ‘lines to take’ which Eurosceptics claim have a pro-EU bias.

Insiders also claim that junior ministers are being licensed to make media comments on the benefits of EU membership. And Whitehall departments have been told to drum up stories which suggest membership helps Britain, sources said.

 Eurosceptic ministers say the situation gives the Government time in which it can make the case for remaining in the EU without answer. Last night Robert Oxley, of Vote Leave, said: ‘It’s unacceptable that Eurosceptic ministers are gagged, while the Government machine is being deployed in favour of staying in.’

Yesterday, Mr Hammond said he ‘can’t envisage’ breaking ranks to campaign against EU membership if Mr Cameron secures a renegotiation deal. The Foreign Secretary – who has previously said he would back a ‘Brexit’ if the relationship does not change – told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Our first challenge is to get the right deal, and we are making good progress on that. I can’t envisage us negotiating a deal which the Prime Minister thinks is good enough to recommend to the British people and which I feel I want to campaign against.’

Significantly, his remarks were immediately seized upon by the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign, which said they were a ‘significant blow’ to the leave groups.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (pictured), a one-time Eurosceptic, said he was confident that the Prime Minister would secure a good deal to remain in the Brussels club, which he would then back


 FOREIGN SECRETARY PHILIP HAMMOND’S REMARKABLE EU-TURN

 ‘If the choice is between an EU written exactly as it is today and not being a part of that then I have to say that I’m on the side of [leaving].’

Philip Hammond in May 2013

 ‘I can’t envisage us negotiating a deal which the Prime Minister thinks is good enough… and which I feel I want to campaign against.’

On Radio 4 yesterday

Meanwhile, during a visit to the RBS headquarters in Edinburgh, Treasury Secretary Mr Hands said: ‘I think migrant workers are, in general, a fantastic thing to have. We’ve just got to make sure that we don’t make our system overly generous.’ Last night Number 10 denied there were any double-standards. A senior Downing Street source said: ‘The Prime Minister is clear that he wants to get a better deal from Brussels.

‘If he gets that, he has always said he will campaign for Britain to remain in a reformed EU. That is exactly what Mr Hammond has said. But Mr Cameron has also made clear if we do not get a better deal he rules nothing out.’

Downing Street yesterday insisted no deal had yet been reached on Mr Cameron’s pledge to withhold migrant benefits for four years. However Number 10 expects numerous possible solutions to emerge in the coming weeks – one of which could be hitting young Britons or expats returning from abroad with the same ban.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3391228/So-free-debate-EU-Ministers-hit-airwaves-Brussels-Eurosceptic-colleagues-gagged.html

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