While the recent referendum victory was an unprecedented success for Eurosceptics, even then the movement displayed its ability to split and fall out. We covered the split between Leave.EU/Grassroots Out and Vote Leave for some months.
It’s notable that the Conservative leadership race has provided another opportunity for Leavers to divide.
First, of course, there was Gove v Boris, and we know how that turned out. MPs who were supporting Johnson have now split three ways – some to May, some to Gove and some to Leadsom.
Now the two main Leave campaigns have stuck their oars in to the race between Gove and Leadsom for the second spot in the final round of the leadership race.
Arron Banks, the man behind Leave.EU, has endorsed Leadsom:
Banks and his campaign no doubt have quite a lot of Conservatives on their books, which could help the Leadsom campaign if she gets through to the eventual membership vote. However, the endorsement could also harm her; plenty of Conservative MPs, the selectorate, and Conservative members, the eventual electorate, have a deep dislike of UKIP and Banks himself for obvious reasons. Some of Leadsom’s fans are furious about it – and some of her critics are already using it as evidence that she is too close to UKIP.
Last night, the official anti-EU campaign, Vote Leave, stuck their oar in, too, via an email to their supporters. They weren’t so explicit, but the following passage made the message quite clear nonetheless:
“It is important that the Conservative leadership candidates accept that the vote must be respected. Both the leading IN candidate (Theresa May) and the leading OUT candidate (Michael Gove) have made clear that if they win they will respect the vote and deliver a new UK-EU deal. This could mean, among other things, democratic control of immigration policy. This could marginalise extremists and allow a fair, sensible, and humane new policy. It could mean new trade deals and new jobs. It could mean more money for health, education, and science.”
By dubbing Gove “the leading OUT candidate” (and not mentioning Leadsom at all, despite her TV debate role), there was evidently some intention to give him a bump. Given that Vote Leave enjoyed the support of a lot more Conservatives than Leave.EU, that too could prove helpful to him. The assistance is unsurprising, given Dominic Cummings’ close working relationship with the Justice Secretary, but it’s certainly annoyed some Leadsom enthusiasts among Vote Leave’s supporter base, one of whom described it to me as a “disgrace”.
Admittedly, “Eurosceptics disagree with each other” is hardly breaking news. But it’s a dynamic worth watching as the leadership contest continues.