Traditionally, Eurosceptics have been more divided than their opponents, splitting into a variety of parties and pressure groups. Since the referendum, however, the Remain camp have seemed to follow suit. Unsure of what to do next, what was a united coalition in support of ‘Stronger In’ has split into a variety of organisations, pursuing a variety of different ends:
Open Britain – as the official successor organisation to Stronger In, Open Britain had a head start in the aftermath of the referendum, as it was able simply to rebrand itself and continue communicating with the followers and supporters it had already amassed. Its main focus is now keeping Britain inside the Single Market, but despite offering leaflets for sale its website only currently features socials and meetings rather than any campaigning events. It has retained Roland Rudd as its chair, while Will Straw’s leadership role has been taken over by former Lib Dem SpAd James McGrory and Labour’s former Head of Research Joe Carberry.
More United – Launched by Paddy Ashdown just over a month after the referendum, More United takes its name from a phrase in the maiden speech of Jo Cox, whose murderer has just been convicted. It describes itself as a “social movement giving you a more direct influence over our politics to build a strong, progressive force in Parliament” and while it wants “a close relationship with the EU”, its aims are broader. Essentially it is a cross-party vehicle intended as a means to support parliamentary candidates of whom it approves, and has raised £77,000 so far through a crowdfunding effort from its claimed 60,000 supporters. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its founder, it is supporting the Lib Dem candidate in the Richmond Park by-election and is organising action days in the constituency. Some within the Labour Party suspect it of being a route to seek an eventual union between the Liberal Democrats and anti-Corbyn Labour MPs.
In Facts – The only Remain organisation from the referendum to maintain its name, In Facts describes itself as “a journalistic enterprise making the fact-based case to stay in the EU or, failing that, for strong relations between Britain and the EU.” The site was set up and is still run by Hugo Dixon, a former FT journalist, and enjoys the support of Bill Emmott, the former editor of the Economist who was executive producer of the EU-funded anti-Brexit film The Great European Disaster Movie.
Common Ground – Another project of Dixon’s, Common Ground was founded by “a group of people who want to stay in the EU”, who now want to “stop a destructive Brexit”. It isn’t entirely clear if this means stopping a certain type of Brexit, for example by staying in the Single Market, or stopping Brexit entirely – the organisation’s statement of its principles says the organisation wants to maintain “free movement of people, goods and services”, but its Twitter channel has featured Dixon talking about finding a “way to stay in the EU”. Common Ground attempted, unsuccessfully, to petition Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems to put up only a single pro-EU candidate in the Richmond Park by-election. More broadly, it is currently undertaking “listening” projects in ten Leave-voting areas of the country, in an effort to find a pro-EU answer to Leave voters’ concerns.
Vote Leave Watch – Set up by Chuka Umunna a fortnight after the referendum result, Vote Leave Watch says it accepts the referendum result but now wants to hold “the Vote Leave campaign and their allies to account for the overblown, misleading claims they made”. Thus far this mainly focuses on the £350 million figure – we have yet to hear the organisation demand that the UK leaves the Single Market in order to “Take Back Control” of our laws and borders. Umunna remains Vote Leave Watch’s dominant voice, and the campaign is based in his constituency, but it has attracted the support of Innocent Drinks millionaire Richard Reed, and Lib Dem MPs Norman Lamb and Tom Brake, and some Labour MPs including Margaret Hodge and Liz Kendall.
Save the Single Market – A project of the campaign agency 89Up, Save the Single Market has so far mainly attracted the support of several journalists (including ConHome columnist Garvan Walshe). Unusually for such a campaign it has the backing of at least one Leave, Roland Smith of the Adam Smith Institute. It’s unclear what if any campaign activity it is undertaking.
The New European – Following the success of the SNP-supporting pop-up newspaper The National, in July Archant launched The New European, a newspaper targeted at those who had voted Remain. Its mission statement says it “celebrates the best of Europe”, though its main stories so far have involved attacking the concept of Brexit. It has published contributions from Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair, AC Grayling, Nick Clegg and Chuka Umunna, and claims a readership of 40,000. Initially intended to run for a month, its sales seem to have exceeded the expectations of its publishers, at least.
“… for Europe” – As well as the foundation of these various national campaigns, in some areas local branches of Stronger In have rebranded and continued to be somewhat active. Inevitably these tend to be in areas which were fairly strong Remain hotspots. Two examples are Lambeth 4 Europe and East London for Europe, which have continued campaigning apparently under the umbrella of Open Britain.
Tony Blair returns – The former Prime Minister told the New Statesman this week that planning to launch a new, and as yet unnamed, organisation in the hope that “Brexit can be stopped”. Other reports indicate that his team has met with Nick Clegg, Richard Branson and Sir Bob Geldof to discuss the project, and is working with Alan Milburn and Freuds, the PR agency, on the project. The fact it is felt necessary seems to hold an implicit rebuke for the pre-existing organisations, which it seems Blair feels aren’t winning their battle. Milburn has held talks with Chuka Umunna, Open Britain and Common Ground, presumably in the hope of uniting their efforts behind Blair’s project.
It remains to be seen what the post-referendum pro-EU landscape will look like. Not only are the disparate groups still shell-shocked from the result, but they have a variety of different aims including preventing Brexit entirely, staying in the Single Market and maintaining those amorphous hopes of a “close relationship” with Brussels. The fact that five months on they are still so divided hints at how badly their movement was knocked by the result. We don’t yet know what if any grassroots desire there really is for refighting that lost battle.