POLITICS
03/02/2016 14:34 GMT | Updated 03/02/2016 14:59 GMT

Lord Lawson's Appointment As Vote Leave Boss Shows It Is A 'Tory Front' Claims Rival Brexit Group

Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson

Margaret Thatcher’s former Chancellor Nigel Lawson has been announced as the new head of one of the campaigns fighting to get the UK out of the EU.

Lord Lawson will take over as chairman of Vote Leave from Labour donor and businessman John Mills, in a move branded “chaotic” by pro-EU group Britain Stronger in Europe.

The shake-up at the top of the Vote Leave has also seen Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott – two men subject to an attempted coup last week by Tory MP Bernard Jenkin – removed from the board.

Rival anti-EU group Leave.EU said the appointment of Lord Lawson showed Vote Leave was a “Tory front”, but hoped the demoting of Mr Elliot and Mr Cummings could help lead to a merger between the two organisations.

Ukip donor Arron Banks, co-founder of Leave.EU said: "There has been a lot of media coverage over the last few days about the need for a merger between Leave.EU and Vote Leave.

"I wish to clarify that I have written to Vote Leave on four occasions, had lunch twice and spoken to the CEO Matthew Elliot and Chairman John Mills about a potential merger.

"On the last occasion we offered John Mills the chairmanship of a merged entity and Matthew Elliot CEO in an attempt to break the deadlock.

"It appears Vote Leave board has taken its own action to remove or control Matthew Elliot and Dominic Cummings.

"We hope that the Vote Leave board is now open to what the majority of people want , a United Brexit campaign."

The reshuffle comes just days after Steve Baker, chair of Conservatives For Britain, called for “material changes” in the way Vote Leave is run.

Speaking to the HuffPost UK, Mr Baker said he was “very proud of the whole team coming together” to make the changes.

He said: “It will also strengthen colleagues sense of ownership of the campaign.

“When I made the comments on Sunday I had a good idea this would happen but I’m not a member of the board.

“However, I have been part of this journey. For me this is a good news story. “

Lord Lawson was already set to play a role in the referendum campaign, after being unveiled as the head of Conservatives for Britain last October.

His appointment was mocked by some after he gave a radio interview calling for the UK to leave the EU from his home in France.

Speaking today, he said: “I am delighted to accept the Chairmanship of Vote Leave, to help ensure that the organisation is fully prepared for the start of the referendum campaign.

“Once the Prime Minister returns from the European Council, I am confident that other senior figures will step forward to support the Vote Leave campaign, but I am happy to help the Board and Campaign Team make the appropriate decisions in the crucial weeks ahead.”

A statement from Vote Leave claimed the changes to the organisation’s board had been “previously planned”.

Vote Leave and Leave.EU are fighting to be chosen as the official Leave campaign group by the Electoral Commission.

Attempts at a merger between the two groups have repeatedly failed, with the Nigel Farage-backed Leave.EU wanting to focus the campaign on immigration, whereas Vote Leave favour making the economic argument for Brexit.

This evening Leave.EU's head of communications Andy Wigmore sent a number of conciliatory tweets to Vote Leave.

James McGrory, Chief Campaign Spokesman of Britain Stronger In Europe, dismissed the changes.

He said: “Vote Leave have spent two days talking about emergency brakes, but it is clear that the wheels have come off their chaotic campaign. Sacking three board members and demoting their chairman is the sign of a flailing organisation which reacts to losing the argument by shuffling the deckchairs.

“Unbelievably, Lord Lawson may not even be chair in a few months’ time, being brought in just to ‘provide leadership’ for the beginning of the campaign.

“The Electoral Commission requires that a referendum campaign be broad-based. For Vote Leave to pack their board with 1980s throwbacks from one party demonstrates that they are narrow, negative, and out of touch with modern Britain.”