Nigel Farage claimed at Ukip’s conference yesterday that all Eurosceptic groups were being brought together under the Leave.EU umbrella organisation, headed up by Ukip donor Arron Banks. However, the other Leave campaign, run by Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings, was notably absent and its representatives did not appear at the conference yesterday. Elliott’s Business for Britain group, which aims to give a voice to Eurosceptic businesses, was also not mentioned as part of the umbrella group.
When I asked Farage about this, he said ‘they don’t want to leave, they want to wait and see what the Prime Minister has come back with’. Banks also told Coffee House he had approached the other camp three times and they declined to join because they are waiting to see what the renegotiation brings back. A spokesman for Leave.EU says:
‘Arron was going to give them money and everything they wanted financially but [Matthew] Elliott wanted to run the show. Arron met them three times, asking them to join forces, but each time they declined.’
Coffee House understands that Banks approached the Cummings-Elliott campaign and apparently told some of those working on that campaign, including a a few Tory MPs, that they should work with him because only he could control Ukip and Nigel Farage. ‘I have Nigel by the short and curlies financially,’ Banks said.
He also told some of the campaigners that Farage should have a minor role and others that Farage must have a prominent role. He also made it clear to everybody that he intends to be the executive chairman of the official Leave campaign. But Cummings-Elliott already had their own plans and major donors lined up who did not want Banks to have an executive role — especially given the mixed messages he appears to have spread about his relationship with Ukip (yesterday he said ‘Nigel is part of it but he’s not the only game in town’).
After it became clear that the MPs involved did not want to work with him, Banks approached Cummings and asked him to become the campaign director of Leave.EU, an offer Cummings declined. Cummings did not want to comment on this but told me ‘we all wish the Arron/Ukip campaign well. Our campaign will launch shortly’.
Ultimately, the only grouping that matters is who the Electoral Commission designates as the official Leave campaign — which will then be eligible for state funding. Although the specific criteria has yet to be announced, the EC says on its website similar criteria to the Scottish independence referendum will be used:
- how the applicant’s objectives fit with the referendum outcome it supports
- the level and type of support for the application
- how the applicant intends to engage with other campaigners
- the applicant’s organisational capacity to represent those campaigning for the outcome, and
- the applicant’s capacity to deliver their campaign (including its financial probity)
Both camps believe they are going to get the official designation. Banks’ efforts with Leave.EU is an attempt to address the third point, while the behind-the-scenes planning done by Elliott and Cummings will put them in a good place for the fourth and fifth points. Although Leave.EU has captured the headlines with its new umbrella group this week, the other Leave camp may find themselves in a stronger place by building their campaign behind the scenes and launching later this year.