Listen to this article
Eight cabinet ministers have been approached by the start-up No campaign about possibly joining the push for Brexit, but it is far from clear how many of David Cameron’s team will ultimately make the leap.
Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings, the two architects of the fledgling campaign, have immaculate Tory contacts — but even they concede they do not know how much cabinet support they will garner.
“Ministers are waiting to see how Cameron’s negotiation pans out — what the opinion polls are saying,” said one senior figure in the No campaign.
The two ministers traditionally seen as the most passionate eurosceptics are Iain Duncan Smith, work and pensions secretary, and Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons.
Their allies say that Mr Cameron will have to return from Brussels with a very strong deal to persuade them to back the Yes campaign.
One supporter of Mr Duncan Smith said: “Iain thinks we need to play it long to get a good deal — we have a great opportunity. If the referendum is next June, then that won’t be long enough.”
Other ministers including Michael Gove, justice secretary, Elizabeth Truss, environment secretary, and even Philip Hammond, foreign secretary, have made little secret of their scepticism about the European project.
Theresa May, home secretary, suggested at the weekend that EU migrants should only come to Britain if they had a job offer: a restriction on free movement of workers that Angela Merkel, German chancellor, has indicated she would not accept.
However, most of the speculation among Conservative MPs surrounds the intentions of Sajid Javid, business secretary, and Boris Johnson, London mayor, who have both indicated they could countenance a Brexit.
Mr Johnson tells friends privately that he could not imagine campaigning for Britain to leave the EU and his allies say the London mayor believes Mr Cameron will get a good deal.
But after a bruising few weeks, the London mayor is sounding increasingly eurosceptic. He said on Tuesday it was “very disappointing” that Mr Cameron would not campaign to exclude Britain from all EU employment laws.
Asked whether there was a set of circumstances in which he could see himself voting for the UK to quit the EU, Mr Johnson replied: “Yes, of course . . . of course, I think it is important.”
Mr Javid, a potential rival to Mr Johnson and George Osborne for the Tory leadership when David Cameron steps down, recently rebuked the CBI for signalling its support for the EU in any circumstance.
But Tory MPs believe that if Mr Osborne became prime minister he would make Mr Javid his chancellor: quitting the cabinet to campaign for a Brexit would be a bold gamble in those circumstances.
Yet if opinion polls suggest that the Brexit campaign could triumph — and that most Tory members support the UK leaving — Mr Cameron’s cabinet unity could start to look decidedly shaky.