• First cabinet minister to hint he will campaign for `out'
  • Leader of House of Commons doubts EU readiness to compromise

Chris Grayling, the leader of the U.K. House of Commons, became the first cabinet member to suggest he will oppose the country’s membership of the European Union since Prime Minister David Cameron allowed his top team freedom to campaign against him in a referendum expected this year.

Saying that the premier has made “a sensible decision” to allow ministers with long-standing opposition to the EU to campaign against the government stance in the vote, Grayling wrote that staying in the bloc on current terms would be “disastrous” for the U.K.

“The crisis in the euro zone and the migration challenge have led to calls for still more integration and a move towards much greater political union. It is a path that the U.K. will not and should not follow,” Grayling wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph newspaper. “Simply staying in the EU with our current terms of membership unchanged would be disastrous for Britain. That’s why I have always believed that it is imperative that his renegotiation takes place and delivers as much potential change as possible.”

Cameron is aiming to reach a deal with his European counterparts next month, paving the way for a referendum as soon as June. He has committed to changing Britain’s membership terms and Grayling backed the prime minister’s attempts to offer a vote on a new relationship.

The renegotiation “is in the interests of all euro-skeptics and of our country. I want Britain to choose between a changed relationship and leaving, and not between the current situation and leaving,” Grayling wrote, before shedding doubt on the willingness of the EU to offer real change. “We will know then how far other EU states are willing to go to meet the prime minister’s demands for change and how much difference that renegotiation can make.”

Cameron Memo

Cameron published a note to cabinet ministers this week which made clear that, while they will be free to campaign against the government position in the referendum, he expects them to offer their support to the renegotiation process and back him in the talks.

Grayling said that the outcome of the referendum should not affect Cameron’s future and it’s important for Conservative ministers to continue to govern together and continue to pursue the rest of the government agenda.

“The idea that a vote for ‘leave’ means he has to go is simply wrong and no more logical than suggesting that a vote to ‘remain’ would mean all euro-skeptics had to quit,” he wrote. “When the referendum is over, we must reunite and work together as a team to make absolutely sure that we win the next election in 2020.”

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