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What Cameron's pledge not to resign if he loses the EU referendum tells us

The PM recognises how any hint that he could depart could galvanise the "No" campaign - but he is preparing for defeat. 

The PM recognises how any hint that he could depart could galvanise the "No" campaign - but he is preparing for defeat.
David Cameron launches the Conservative Party's European and local election campaign during a speech in Newcastle on May 2, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.

The issue of resigning, and when and when not to do so, is occupying an increasing amount of David Cameron's time. It started with his pledge last month to stand down as prime minister if he is unable to deliver an in/out EU referendum by 2017 (making the issue a red line in futue coalition negotiations). Then on Friday, he confirmed reports that he has "no intention" of resigning if Scotland votes to leave the UK in September. Today, in an interview on ITV's Good Morning Britain, he extended that commitment to the EU referendum. 

The point about these referendums is that there is a question on these referendums and the question is not 'do you want the prime minister to stay or go?' – whether it’s the case with Scotland or Europe; the question is, in the case of Scotland, 'do you want Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom?', 'do you want the United Kingdom to stay in Europe?'

Cameron's pledge not to resign tells us several things. First, that, unsurprisingly, he has an interest in his own preservation. A prime minister cannot afford to appear indifferent about his own fate. Second, that he recognises how any hint that he could depart could galvanise the "Yes" campaign in the case of Scotland and the "No" campaign in the case of the EU. Third, that in both cases, he is mentally preparing himself for the possibility that he will not get the outcome he seeks (for Scotland to remain in the UK and for the UK to remain in the EU). 

The final point to make, as Isabel Hardman did on Friday, is that Cameron does not enjoy the luxury of being able to choose whether he survives defeat in either referendum. That is up to his party. Were a minimum of 46 letters to be sent to the backbench 1922 Committee, he would face a vote of no confidence. Alternatively, he could be deposed by a phalanx of senior cabinet ministers telling him that the game is up. That Cameron is already insisting he won't be moved is a clear sign that he is determined to avoid this outcome.