Is peace about to break out between the two Brexit campaigns, Vote Leave and Leave.EU? Today’s Daily Telegraph reports that Arron Banks, the co-founder of Leave.EU, has written to Matthew Elliot from Vote Leave to suggest they should ‘put all these disagreements to one side’. In the letter, Banks says he is happy to merge with the campaigns without any special terms:
‘In terms of uniting Leave.eu and Vote Leave we have no prior conditions and believe that discussions should now take place that reflect the complementary strengths that the two organisations enjoy.
‘I have a simple view of life and this is my unequivocal message moving forward – if you want to leave the EU, you are on our side. We should be one winning team.’
Coffee House understands that Vote Leave have his letter but any merger talks or an agreement are a long way off. ‘We received a letter from Arron Banks last Thursday, discussing a potential merger with Leave.EU and it has been referred to our board. But there have been no formal talks,’ says a senior source on the Vote Leave campaign.
Some Eurosceptics see this as an attempt by Leave.EU to save face after Vote Leave has jumped into the media spotlight. ‘It’s a cunning move on Arron’s part,’ says one Ukip insider. ‘It’s a sign of how the centre of gravity has shifted from six months ago. Vote Leave’s reach is now impressive, it’s very good at framing the debate and setting the agenda, just look at the CBI intervention. It’s a serious campaign with serious people who have a lot of experience’.
Even if merger talks go ahead, there are some substantial differences for Leave.EU and Vote Leave to overcome. Vote Leave are keen to ensure this referendum isn’t a re-run of 1975, when polarising figures such as Enoch Powell and Tony Benn were the representing the Out campaign. Arron Banks has said Ukip’s Nigel Farage should play a key role in the campaign — something that is a sticking point with Vote Leave.
The same goes for messaging; Leave.EU has been focused on immigration and the need to control borders, whereas Vote Leave are more concerned about the economic case for Brexit. Plus, there is some disgruntlement among the Vote Leave camp that the letter has been ended up in the public domain before the board has met to discuss it.
Unless Leave.EU change their strategy — Banks did say he has ‘no prior conditions’ to merging — these are two pretty major stumbling blocks for a merger. The other issue is related to Banks personally: the Vote Leave campaign is wary of his close ties to Ukip and Farage, which may cause issues with the Electoral Commission designation as the official Out campaign, as well as caustic remarks about Douglas Carswell — he described the Clacton MP as ‘borderline autistic with mental illness wrapped in’. For one thing, Carswell sits on Vote Leave’s Parliamentary planning committee, so it’s unlikely he will be endorsing a merger.