David Cameron summons ministers for 'loyalty tests' over EU membership

At least three ministers expected to support Leave campaign, but PM hopes rest of his senior team will fall in behind him

Cabinet ministers have been summoned individually by David Cameron for “loyalty tests” to find out whether he can count on their support in the European Union membership referendum.

He set up the meetings to assess the number who are likely to oppose his leadership by campaigning for a “Brexit” in the vote which Mr Cameron hopes to stage in late June. The Prime Minister aims to secure agreement on reforming Britain’s relationship with Brussels at a summit of EU leaders in three weeks’ time – and to have the support of the large majority of his Cabinet as he makes the case for remaining in the 28-nation bloc.

At least three ministers – Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and Chris Grayling, the Commons Leader – are expected to support the Leave campaign, but Mr Cameron is hoping the rest of his senior team will fall in behind him.

“He has been calling people in separately to hear their thoughts and how they stand on all of this, and to see where the balance of opinion is among colleagues,” a cabinet source told i.

His aim is to win over ministers who are regarded as mildly Eurosceptic, including Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, and Stephen Crabb, the Welsh Secretary.

Speaking in Cardiff yesterday, Mr Crabb said he was not a “bought and paid-for member of the EU fan club” but expected to support the Remain campaign.

He said: “If the Prime Minister’s renegotiation is successful and he secures the reforms he has spelled out, then I believe it will be in the UK’s best interests to remain in a reformed European Union.” A major question mark remains over the stance that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will take over EU membership, although friends expect her to support the Prime Minister.

Speculation is also focusing on the attitude of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. His younger brother, the science minister Jo Johnson, and his father, Stanley Johnson, have backed remaining in the EU this week.

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