David Cameron
David Cameron is expected to announce the date of the EU  membership referendum later this monthReuters

David Cameron has angered local Conservative party activists by telling MPs not to listen to eurosceptic constituency associations. Comments he made in the Commons on Wednesday have prompted a backlash amongst the party's grassroots, after the Sunday Telegraph published a letter cosigned by dozens of local Conservative organisations condemning his "disrespect".

On Wednesday, the PM told his MPs: "Don't take a view because of what your constituency association might say, or you're worried about a boundary review, or you think it might be advantageous this way or that way."

Cameron is trying to contain an increasingly bitter internal party struggle over the forthcoming EU referendum. Many local party activists are keenly anti-Europe, and the PM's remarks were made in an effort to prevent wavering MPs from bending to the pressure from their constituencies as he battles to keep Britain from leaving the EU.

'Loyal servants' protest

In their letter, representatives of 43 Conservative associations from across the UK, including signatories Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, "urge the Prime Minister to refrain from showing any disrespect to the loyal servants who helped him win a majority government".

"It is deeply regrettable that the Prime Minister dismisses the very people who helped secure his victory, and he should remember that no prime minister has a divine right to rule," it continues.

In response, a spokesman for Number 10 told the paper: "The PM has the greatest of respect for Conservative associations across the country. He was simply making the point that everyone should ultimately vote with their conscience."

EU cabinet conflict

Much of Britain's right-wing press was up in arms earlier in the week over what editors perceived as weak concessions extracted by the PM from EU chiefs in his much-vaunted attempt to renegotiate Britain's terms with the union, and Cameron seems to be struggling to coral his own side.

The Telegraph reports that five cabinet ministers, including Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith, are set to vote to leave the EU. There are seven currently on the fence, including major names like Boris Johnson, Theresa May and Michael Fallon, while 13 are likely to vote to remain in.

Backbench MPs, however, are a more fractious group, but Cameron believes he needs as many as possible to back the in camp if Britain is to retain its position.