Brexit: What are People's Vote campaign bosses rowing about?

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Media caption,

Tom Baldwin vs Roland Rudd on Today programme

A public row has broken out between leading figures in the People's Vote campaign for another EU referendum.

The director and head of communications for the campaign both appear to have been sacked, and many of the staff are reported to have walked out in protest.

What is the People's Vote campaign?

The People's Vote campaign is an organisation campaigning for a new referendum on the UK's membership of the EU.

The campaign, which was launched in 2018, officially supports a new referendum on any Brexit deal, with the option of remaining in the EU being on the ballot paper.

It is a coalition of five different coalition groups - the European Movement UK, the Joint Media Unit, Our Future Our Choice, For our Future's Sake and Wales for Europe and Open Britain.

The director of the campaign is James McGrory, ex-deputy PM Nick Clegg's former top adviser, and the head of communications is Tom Baldwin, the former top adviser to Ed Miliband when he was Labour leader.

However, on Sunday evening, Roland Rudd, the chairman of Open Britain, the company which runs the People's Vote campaign. sent an email to staff announcing that Mr McGrory and Mr Baldwin were leaving the organisation and being replaced with Patrick Heneghan, a former head of campaigns for the Labour party.

Staff angry at the changes walked out of the People's Vote office, in Millbank tower, on Monday morning.

Prominent supporters such as Alistair Campbell, the former No 10 director of communications under Tony Blair, have questioned whether Mr Rudd even has the power to dismiss Mr McGrory and Mr Baldwin.

Why is the campaign divided?

The campaign is split on whether it should commit to supporting remaining in the EU in any future referendum.

The Observer has reported that Mr Rudd wants the campaign to pursue a more explicitly pro-Remain position.

Mr McGory and Mr Baldwin feared this would stop the campaign from winning over "soft Leave" voters - and Labour and Conservative MPs who may support a second referendum.

Mr Baldwin defended this position in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme,

"It's not the best way to win the argument with Conservative MPs who back a deal, or Labour MPs that back a deal, or indeed the public, many of who voted leave and still want to leave, to say that this is just a ruse to overturn the result of the last referendum," he said.

Speaking on the same programme, Mr Rudd said: "There's no row about the Remain side and PV [People's Vote]. Everyone knows where we stand on this.

"This is an absurd argument. Everybody knows perfectly well that we're made up of people who want to vote to Remain. There isn't a problem."

Previous strategy rows

This is not the first time internal debates over whether the campaign should explicitly back Remain have become public.

In July, Buzzfeed News published a series of leaked emails and exchanges between senior members and supporters of the campaign revealing tensions over staff and strategy, specifically around whether or not the campaign should take part in an pro-EU march that month.

Six prominent supporters of the campaign emailed Mr Rudd to complain that the infighting meant the organisation was "not fit for purpose".

Divisions over the campaign's strategy are not just limited to whether or not they back Remain.

It was also reported in January that there were internal arguments over when to table an amendment for a second referendum, with some in the campaign wanting MPs to wait until all other options had been rejected.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Anti-Brexit placards outside the entrance to the Cabinet Office on Whitehall on March 23rd 2019

'A wrecking ball through the campaign'

There have also been clashes over personalities before today, when Mr Baldwin accused Mr Rudd of putting "a wrecking ball" through the campaign.

Mr Rudd, who is standing down as chair of Open Britain, has been criticised for trying to use a new pro-EU group, registered under a new company, Baybridge, as a way to take more control over the Remain campaign in any future referendum.

However, according to The Observer, this new group has been defended by allies as being necessary to bring direction to the campaign.

Mr Rudd's opponents have also previously faced accusations of trying to gain more power within the campaign.

The Mail on Sunday has reported that Mr Campbell had attempted to work with Labour peer Lord Mandelson, both allies of Mr Baldwin, against Mr Rudd.

They were accused of trying to organise a "coup" against Mr Rudd with Mr Campbell writing in one email: "I do not see how this gets done without a public battle and it should happen soon and be fast and brutal".