Cameron U-turns on threat to sack MPs who back Brexit

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (Reuters/Ints Kalnins)
Prime Minister David Cameron has ‘clarified’ remarks he made to journalists on Sunday when he appeared to threaten to sack Conservative MPs who actively backed the UK’s exit from the EU.

Cameron previously said his government would not take a “neutral” stance on the referendum, insisting the party was fully committed to renegotiating the UK’s relationship with Europe which would allow them to recommend a ‘Yes’ vote.

Speaking in Germany at the G7 Summit, he warned: “If you want to be part of the government you have to take the view that we are engaged in an exercise of renegotiation to have a referendum and that will lead to a successful outcome.”

Following claims his stance would create divisions within the party, the PM’s official spokeswoman said on Monday his remarks had been “over-interpreted.”

She said the referendum process was divided into two sections: debating the renegotiation Bill and the vote itself. The spokeswoman said the PM’s threat only applied during the renegotiation process.

The PM’s comments came after a group of 50 Tory MPs joined a newly formed group, the Conservatives for Britain (CfB), who aim to ramp up the pressure on renegotiations during the run up to the referendum.

On Sunday Cameron said: “Everyone in government has signed up to the program set out in the Conservative manifesto.”

He added he hoped Tory MPs would not try and amend a reform bill to attempt to pave the way for the referendum, saying: “We'll be putting forward the bill that we think is the right bill. It will be a matter for parliament to discuss and debate it.”

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“I am carrying out a renegotiation in the national interest to get a result that I believe will be in the national interest. I’m confident I can get that.

“And if I can get a position where Britain would be better off in a reformed Europe, then obviously that’s not something the government’s neutral about. It’s not a sort of, ‘On the one hand ... on the other hand,’ approach. It’s that if I can secure what I want to secure, I will secure what I think is the right outcome for Britain.

“The government isn't neutral in this. We have a clear view: renegotiate, get a deal that's in Britain's interest and then recommend Britain stays in it.”

US President Barack Obama has staged a very public intervention at the summit, saying he was “looking forward” to the UK remaining part of the European Union.

We have no closer partner around the world on a whole host of issues,” he said.

Obama added: “I would note that one of the great values of having the United Kingdom in the European Union is its leadership and strength on a whole host of global challenges, so we very much are looking forward to the United Kingdom staying part of the European Union because we think its influence is positive not just for Europe, but also for the world.”

But the CfB’s Westminster chairman Steve Baker said there were “dozens” of Conservative MPs who wanted “fundamental change” and would be willing to vote to quit the EU.

Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said that Cameron’s “my way or the highway” approach displayed a lack of confidence in his renegotiation abilities.