Boris Johnson may be a surprise addition to Prime Minister David Cameron’s front bench in the next few weeks, the major winner in a re-shuffle designed to steady the government ship ahead of the European Union (EU) in/out referendum.
No 10 fears that at least two Eurosceptic Cabinet Ministers – Leader of the House Chris Grayling and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers – could lose their jobs over Mr Cameron’s vigorous support for an ‘In’ vote in the poll.
Last night, one of the Mayor of London’s friends told The Mail on Sunday that he would answer the call for an early return if there were ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Mr Johnson, who is yet to reveal which way he will vote in the referendum, is being wooed by both the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ camps. But if he accepted a big job in any New Year reshuffle, he would be forced to rally behind Mr Cameron and the ‘In’ campaign.
Mr Cameron is expected to complete his renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s relationship with Europe in time for the next meeting of the European Council in February but plenty of critics point out that at this stage the prime minister has not won a single concession from Brussels.
As Breitbart London has reported, Mr Cameron believes the EU re-negotiation looms as the single biggest political issue of 2016.
Mr Cameron, who is criss-crossing Europe seeking support for his plan to stop EU citizens being entitled to British benefits for four years, conceded in his New Year message that many in Britain feel “frustrated” with the EU and pledged to plough on with his renegotiation of the UK’s membership terms.
Cabinet solidarity is essential if Mr Cameron is to mount a persuasive argument to sway undecided British voters.
The Mail points out that Downing Street has tried to calm the jitters of leading Cabinet Eurosceptics, who also include Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Michael Gove, by assuring them that if they are unhappy with the outcome of Mr Cameron’s negotiations with Brussels then he will allow them to openly campaign to leave the EU.
However, some sceptics fear that they are being ‘strung along’ by No 10 to keep them in line until the last minute.
With the EU vote potentially being held as soon as June, they say that if they wait too long to campaign for ‘Out’, then the ‘In’ campaign could have built up an unassailable lead – polls suggest the ‘In’ camp is ahead by about 10 points.
Downing Street worries that Ms Villiers and Mr Grayling, who are calculating they will be sacked at the next reshuffle anyway, have little to lose by leaving on their own terms.
The decision to bring Mr Johnson inside the Cameron ‘In’ tent would therefore negate any future push from outside and neuter the Mayor of London’s own Brexit ambitions.
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