The Labour donor John Mills has quit the Vote Leave campaign amid accusations of infighting in the group over whether its leaders are taking the Labour vote seriously enough. He now plans to run a Brexit campaign aimed squarely at Labour voters.
Mills, who made his fortune in home shopping, was a founding member of Vote Leave which earlier this month was awarded designation as the official campaign for the Leave vote in Britain’s referendum on European Union membership. He has previously served as chairman of the organisation.
But yesterday he issued a statement announcing his departure as Deputy Chair and his intention to run Labour Leave instead, with a view to ensuring that Labour voters come out in support of a Brexit.
“Over the last few weeks, within the campaign, I have come to believe that it would be useful and more effective for the Leave campaign if there was a strong and independent Labour voice for the arguments to leave the EU,” he said.
“Labour people are looking for an organisation that speaks directly to their concerns in a voice they recognise as their own.
“My resignation today from Vote Leave means that I can now focus fully on my role as Responsible Person and Director of Labour Leave, and create that distinctive voice. In the run up to the vote on 23 June, Labour Leave will provide a compelling and robust left-of-centre case for leaving the EU.”
He added that Labour Leave “will continue to work with Vote Leave, as well as other Leave campaigns.” However, although Vote Leave lists numerous affiliated groups on its website, including Conservatives for Britain, Liberal Leave, Students for Britain and even Historians for Britain, Labour Leave is not listed among them.
Mr Mills’ resignation comes amid reports of infighting within the campaign, and senior Vote Leave staff making it clear that they were not impressed with Mr Mills’ media appearances, The Times has reported.
Mr Mills had long made it clear that he was unhappy with the way the campaign was being run: in February a letter to Labour colleagues penned by Mr Mills was leaked to The Times which revealed deep discontent with the political thrust of the campaign from the Labour side.
“The bottom line is that Labour Leave are fed up with the way they have been treated by Vote Leave and the — intransigent and insensitive from their perspective — policies it pursued,” he had written.
Vote Leave is now jointly chaired by Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, and Conservative justice secretary Michael Gove, but Mr Mills’ departure, and his previous display of dissatisfaction casts further doubts on Vote Leave’s claims to be a truly cross-party organisation, as stipulated by the Electoral Commission which ruled on the official campaign designation.
Mr Mills departure follows that of Labour’s Kate Hoey and Green Party Peer Baroness Jones, who both quit in February. Ms Hoey was particularly scathing about Vote Leave campaign chiefs Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott, who she said had deliberately spread lies about other campaigns to discredit them.
“The board is packed with Dominic and Matthew people,” she said, adding: “they have not got the capacity to […] work with ‘ordinary people’ and all the other little campaigns that have been there for years, working really hard. They haven’t got the capacity to bring people together – and that’s what we need now.”