Photographer: Gerard Cerles/AFP via Getty Images

U.K. Ministers Start to Line Up in Pro-EU Camp Before Referendum

  • Rudd is wary of exit consequences, Hands praises immigrants
  • Johnson stays on fence with `great future elsewhere' comment

Prime Minister David Cameron will let members of his cabinet decide for themselves whether to campaign for Britain to stay in or leave the European Union -- a so-called Brexit -- in a referendum expected later this year after he’s renegotiated membership terms. Assuming Cameron gets the deal he’s seeking and opts to campaign for staying in the EU, which way are his ministers likely to go?

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd and Greg Hands, the chief secretary to the Treasury, have become the latest cabinet members to express pro-EU sentiments over the past few days, following the foreign and environment secretaries.

Tending toward staying in

George Osborne: The chancellor of the exchequer is taking a leading role in Britain’s renegotiation, with his stance closely aligned with Cameron’s. “‎We want Britain to remain in a reformed European Union, but it needs to be an EU that works better for all the citizens of Europe,” he told an audience in Berlin in November.

Philip Hammond: The foreign secretary told BBC Radio 4 Friday that he “can’t envisage us negotiating a deal which the prime minister thinks is good enough to recommend to the British people and which I want to campaign against.”

Amber Rudd: The energy secretary told the Daily Telegraph in an interview published Saturday that there would be “unknown” consequences for the energy market, households and businesses if Britain leaves. “I would like to see a reformed EU, and then I’d like to campaign to stay in,” she said.

Greg Hands: Speaking in Edinburgh Friday, the chief secretary to the Treasury spoke of free movement of labor across the EU as being “very important” and said the U.K. “benefits from that a great deal.” Migrant workers are “a fantastic thing to have,” he said. “We’ve just got to make sure that we don’t make our system overly generous to people that haven’t paid in enough beforehand.”

Liz Truss: The environment secretary said Jan. 6 that she fully supports Cameron’s renegotiation. “I have seen how hard he is fighting to get a better deal for Britain,” she told a farming conference in Oxford. “There is a huge prize at stake and one worth fighting for.”

Nicky Morgan: The education secretary told an event at the Tory conference last year she could “personally not” imagine backing a British EU exit.

Jeremy Hunt: The health secretary has expressed backing for Cameron to get an acceptable deal, though he’s said he’d support Brexit if no deal is achieved.

Patrick McLoughlin: The transport secretary told the Observer newspaper in October that he backs staying in, saying he’s “looking forward to a bit more of a conversation about some of the good things that come out of Europe.”

Stephen Crabb: The Welsh secretary told the BBC in May 2015 that businesses in Wales are “huge winners” from being in the EU.

On the fence

Theresa May: The home secretary sparked speculation about the likelihood she’d campaign to leave the EU with a speech to the 2015 Tory party conference attacking large-scale immigration. May was asked in a BBC interview late last month whether she would be leading the Brexit campaign, but refused to answer, saying she was focused on the negotiations.

Boris Johnson: The London mayor, who’s part of Cameron’s political cabinet and may be given a ministerial job before the referendum, has failed to come down firmly on either side in the debate. “My own view is I want to be part of a reformed EU; and I’ve always said that and that’s my preference, but if we can’t get the reform we need, then Britain has a great, great future elsewhere and outside in a different relationship,” he told BBC London Jan. 7. “Let’s see where we get to.”

Michael Gove: The justice secretary said in 2013 he’d be prepared to vote to leave the EU and that life outside the bloc would be “perfectly tolerable.” Gove denied a report last month that he was about to come out in favor of an exit, saying a deal could only be judged once concluded.

Michael Fallon: “We are all skeptics about Europe. We all want to see reform in Europe,” the defence secretary told the BBC in October. “We’re all thoroughly behind the prime minister in his reform agenda.”

Tending toward leaving

Iain Duncan Smith: The work and pensions secretary and former Tory leader is widely regarded as being among the most euro-skeptic members of the cabinet. He was at the forefront of opposition to the EU’s Maastricht Treaty in the 1990s. He told Parliament in November that “Brexit” campaigners “may well carry the day” but said last month he’ll only make up his mind which way to vote after the renegotiation is completed.

Sajid Javid: The business secretary inclines toward euro-skepticism. He told the House of Commons in November that many companies believe that at present, the costs of EU membership outweigh the benefits.

Chris Grayling: The leader of the House of Commons, a self-declared euro-skeptic, told a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference last year that he would wait until he’d seen the terms of the renegotiation before deciding which way to vote. “If the British people decide to leave, then we leave. This is a strong country and we will prosper whatever the situation is,” the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported him saying. The current terms of membership are not in the “national interest” he said.

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Theresa Villiers: The Northern Ireland secretary was among Tory euro-skeptics attending a 2012 dinner to mark the 20th anniversary of the rebellion against the Maastricht Treaty.

Oliver Letwin: The minister who runs the Cabinet Office said in 2014 he would like Britain to be part of an outer rim of EU states forming a free-trade zone. He said there was an 80 percent chance of Cameron getting the sort of deal he wanted, and if not, he “would want to recommend leaving.”

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