Could 'unity reshuffle' follow EU referendum?

David Cameron chairs a meeting of the cabinet last May Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption David Cameron has refrained from chopping and changing his cabinet too often

They'll laugh it off for now, as governments always do. But as the prime minister enters this last week of negotiation before the crunch EU summit in Brussels next week, ministers' minds are turning to what happens in the aftermath, not just of the summit, but the referendum itself.

And while Number 10 won't countenance any discussion of moves for its top team, several sources have told me that a reshuffle following a theoretical government victory in the referendum is very much on the cards.

One source told me a "unity reshuffle" is being planned, to pull the party back together after the campaign to show that the Conservatives had a debate about Europe, and it was not a disaster.

One senior minister told me "there is bound to be" a reorganisation, and maybe quite a big one, of the senior team.

And it could be David Cameron's most wide-ranging reshuffle ever. He has never been fond of moving ministers around - reshuffles are notoriously hard to get right - and he's believed it makes sense to allow ministers time to master their brief, well at least not be shoved out at the first sign of trouble. Even after the general election, he left his senior team relatively intact.

But after a very unusual permitted period of disagreement during the referendum campaign, a reshuffle where Eurosceptics are embraced, even promoted, could be used to show that the government can move forward as a team.

A senior minister said there will be an "overarching need to bring the party together to govern".

There are many moving parts to all of this. It's not even clear yet which ministers will declare for the Eurosceptic cause, although you'd get a decent bet on Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Theresa Villiers, John Whittingdale, Michael Gove and still possibly Sajid Javid. And then there's even Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

Image caption If David Cameron loses the referendum, then his own position may come under threat

And of course it is not at all certain that the pro EU side of the argument will win the referendum. If David Cameron loses, all bets are off, and his job might even be on the line.

But if he wins, and this reshuffle comes to pass, who might go where? Well, there would likely be a senior job for Boris Johnson, maybe as home secretary or even defence secretary with a move in turn, for Theresa May, perhaps to the Foreign Office.

Mr Johnson turned down a Cabinet job after the general election, but the prime minister has promised there will be another offer. Michael Fallon, the current defence secretary, could replace Chris Grayling as leader of the House of Commons.

It's likely too that there would be another senior woman promoted into the Cabinet, perhaps Anna Soubry or Priti Patel.

None of this, of course, is certain. Politics is in a strangely febrile place, and it would be foolhardy to predict much about the next few months with much conviction. Downing Street sources say it's nonsense to suggest they are putting time and energy into planning a reshuffle. The focus is all on the renegotiation, then winning the referendum.

Yet as ministers make their minds up which side to take in the campaign, don't doubt that their futures after the public vote are just as much of a preoccupation as the principles of stay or go.

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