The eurosceptic grassroots campaign group Leave.EU has signed up over a thousand local councillors from across Britain and the political spectrum in support of their campaign to Leave the European Union at the forthcoming referendum.
The campaign already has, 270,000 registered supporters from across the country, but in the last few days the group has undertaken something of a recruitment drive amongst councillors in a bid to secure cross-party support and secure its claim to be a truly grassroots campaign.
The drive has paid off – the group now counts among its supporters 531 Conservative party councillors, 194 UK Independence Party (Ukip) councillors and 134 Labour party councillors.
Council members representing the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats, and a number of smaller parties have also signed up, joining another 97 independent councillors.
Arron Banks, one of the group’s co-founders said, “We are delighted that in less than 5 days so many councillors from all political parties have signed up to support our peoples campaign to leave the EU at the referendum. It demonstrates that this issue is above the political parties and clearly shows the strength of feeling across the UK.”
Amusingly, sources noted that four Ukip councillors approached by Leave.eu told the group that they’d rather stay in the EU, despite their party’s clear policy of favouring a British exit from the Union, and their leader’s instrumental role in securing Britain a referendum on the subject in 2017.
Leave.eu is currently engaged in a head to head battle with rival group Vote Leave Take Control to be recognised as the official Leave group by the Electoral Commission. Official designation carries significant benefits including greater broadcasting rights and a larger permitted budget, amongst others.
Backers of the Vote Leave group, run by Westminster insider Matthew Elliott have criticised Leave.eu for being too closely tied to Ukip; Banks is a major Ukip backer and, at Ukip’s conference, party leader Nigel Farage urged delegates to support Leave.eu.
In September, Conservative Home’s executive editor Mark Wallace, a long standing associate of Elliott came out in support of Vote Leave, citing Leave.eu’s ties to Ukip as a stumbling block.
“Leave.EU has close ties to UKIP – having been launched at their conference by a major UKIP donor, with a warm welcome from Nigel Farage,” Wallace wrote. “By contrast, Elliott and [Dominic] Cummings have managed to assemble a broader alliance across the political parties – thus far they have Conservative, Labour, DUP and UKIP MPs signed up … and will be announcing others soon. That’s a compelling argument that they have the wider cross-party base at this point by quite a long way.”
Richard Tice, co-founder of Leave.eu said that the councillors support put paid to any such claims. “The support of so many councillors and the main Eurosceptic groups, including The Bruges Group, UKIP, Bow Group, Get Britain Out, Global Britain and CAEF is another significant step for us in securing the designation from the Electoral Commission,” he said. “We now have full political cross party support that cannot be ignored.”