Ukip’s announcement this afternoon that it will be backing Grassroots Out in its bid for designation as the official ‘Leave’ campaign in the EU referendum has caused consternation in its ranks. The party put out a press release saying that the National Executive Committee, MEPs and its Local Councillors Association are backing GO, which was set up by Peter Bone and is supported by Leave.EU.
But I understand that there was no formal NEC meeting about this, and that the last meeting that discussed the designation was a few months ago. When I asked the party how the NEC was consulted, I was told that there was a telephone discussion about the matter this morning. Some were contacted by text message. Party figures are unhappy, claiming that this is a ‘stitch-up’ aimed at bouncing the party into supporting the designation when two thirds of its councillors support rival campaign Vote Leave.
There is also the glaring problem of the Ukip parliamentary party, which is not mentioned at all in the press release. Party sources said they were still working on persuading Douglas Carswell to back their stance, but that no-one would be disciplined for supporting Vote Leave.
Carswell sent out an email to Ukip councillors this afternoon, arguing that Vote Leave was the cross-party organisation with the ‘right strategy in order to win this referendum’. The email, which was passed to Coffee House by one of the recipients, says:
‘Dear UKIP Councillor,
‘Thank you for all the hard work you are doing in the EU referendum campaign! Without you, it simply would not have been possible to have held so many campaign days/street stalls, as we have done over the past few weeks.
‘As a fellow elected representative of UKIP, I know you will appreciate how important it is that we work together cross-party, as we cannot win this campaign on our own.
‘Vote Leave is that cross-party organisation and has the right strategy in order to win this referendum. This is why I am supporting them, as are the majority of UKIP councillors across the country too. This is our big chance to take back control of our country, and I ask you to keep up the great work you are doing on the ground.
‘I look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail!’
It closes with photos of Vote Leave doing local campaigning, presumably to make the point that it isn’t Westminster-focused, which is the accusation that those on the other side level.
In response to the designation announcement, Carswell tells Coffee House:
‘I’m 100 per cent on board with Vote Leave and I’m more confident than ever that Vote Leave will get designation. Ukip should be engaging with all groups campaigning to leave the EU.’
Other sources in Ukip argue that they’ve repeatedly tried and failed to engage with Vote Leave to get the different camps working together. But there are now rumours flying around in the party that Ukip may disband after the referendum and merge into a new political party with GO members, which is naturally causing even more anxiety.