G7 summit: David Cameron's U-turn on the EU... in his own words

Downing Street claims the media 'over-interpreted' his words yesterday but a transcript of his quotes suggest a major U-turn after Tory unrest today

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Indy Politics

David Cameron performed a major U-turn after telling ministers they would be sacked if they refused to back Britain's continued membership of the EU in the referendum he will hold before the end of 2017.

Downing Street has insisted he was only referring to the renegotiation phase when he said ministers must back him or resign.

No decision had been made on whether ministers would be bound by unity during the referendum campaign itself, the Prime Minister's spokeswoman said, claiming the media had "over-interpreted" his words.

But Mr Cameron's remarks were not exactly ambiguous - here they are in full:

The prime minister said his government would not be "neutral" on the issue of EU membership

Speaking to journalists at the G7 summit at Schloss Elmau in Germany, Mr Cameron said: "Everyone in government has signed up to the programme set out in the Conservative manifesto.

"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."

Question: On the EU referendum, have you absolutely closed your mind to allowing ministers a free vote? That's a no-no?

PM:  I've been very clear, which is I've said that 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.

Question: So anyone in government who opposes that will have to resign?

PM: Everyone in government has signed up to the programme set out in the Conservative manifesto. Thank you. See you all later. Enjoy the mountain.

His words were backed up by communities minister James Wharton this morning:

"If the Government is taking a Government position, if collective responsibility is applied, if you don't want to support that position, you have to leave. You are then free to campaign for whatever you want, to vote however you want.

"If we get to a position where the Government's position is that this renegotiation has been successful - and the details will be there for all to see at that point - then it is reasonable to expect that collective responsibility will apply."

But it all changed when the Prime Minister's official spokeswoman told journalists they had "over-interpreted" Mr Cameron's words.

"The Prime Minister was clearly talking yesterday about the position of collective responsibility during the renegotiation - a position the PM has set out previously, including in the House during the Queen's Speech debate.

Asked whether ministers would be bound by collective government responsibility during the referendum campaign itself, she said: "He has not set that out and we are not getting into any hypotheticals on the approach to the referendum."