A NEW grouping aiming to secure a ‘leave’ vote in the planned EU referendum has been launched, but immediately caused a split in Ukip, which is committed to seeing Britain leave the 28-nation union.
Prime Minister #David Cameron has promised a referendum before the end of 2017, but he is pinning his hopes on negotiating a package of reforms so that he can urge voters to back him and remain in the EU.
Today a new group was officially launched advocating ‘Brexit’ – the departure of Britain from the EU.
Vote Leave is one of two groups that will bid for the exit votes: the other, Leave.EU, is due to be launched next week. On Monday a campaigning group for staying in the EU will be launched..
However, the launch today has split the Ukip party. The leader of that party, Nigel Farage, prefers to be involved with Leave.eu, but their single MP, Douglas Carswell, has signaled his support for the Vote Leave group, joining a Parliamentary Planning Committee for the campaign.
Carswell said today: "I look forward to building a campaign that has no interest in party loyalties and is focused on what is best for Britain and our friends in Europe."
In contrast, his party leader, Nigel Farage, said: “I’ve given my support to Leave.EU, which aims to engage the British public and already has an amazing 200,000 registered supporters.”
However, he added in a Tweet: “Equally, I support the pro-business arguments that have been made by Vote Leave today. Arguments that Ukip have been making for many years.”
The division is significant because only one group will be nominated as the official ‘leave’ campaign by the Electoral Commission and will benefit from official funds. But with months before the referendum is even announced, some party insiders fear that signing up to one group that may lose the official designation could put them at a disadvantage..
There is another important distinction between the two groups. Leave.EU is against any continued membership, while Vote Leave say they are in favour of a reformed European Union. However, they firmly believe that David Cameron will not achieve any significant reforms and will thus be free to advocate EU withdrawal.
The issue is a bone of contention to the Prime Minister. While all of the groups, pro and anti, contain members from across the political spectrum, it is the Conservative Party that is most divided about it.
Earlier this week, as the Conservative Party Conference opened in Manchester, The Times published another extract from the ‘Call Me Dave’ book written by Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Hardman (a former journalist on the Sunday Times).
In that extract it was claimed that the Prime Minister had vowed that he would never take Britain out of the EU.
To a febrile Conservative Party that claim was much more damaging than the salacious pig anecdote in the extracts published by the Daily Mail.
The campaign groups are organizing now, with the possibility that a referendum could be held as early as next summer. However, that gives David Cameron little time to negotiate any reforms on which to base his appeal to voters to back remaining.
The groups campaigning for an exit are taking no chances and preparing for a vote as soon as they can.
The latest opinion polls suggest a majority of voters in favour of Britain remaining inside the EU. But if the Prime Minister does not achieve a package of reforms the situation is reversed.