POLITICS
27/05/2018 22:30 BST | Updated 29/05/2018 11:47 BST

'Get Out Of London!' MPs Blast People's Vote Campaign For Not Taking Fight To Brexit Areas

'A referendum on the deal won’t be won in Camden,' one Labour MP has warned

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Pro remain voters during the People's Vote campaign launch on Brexit at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town.

Remain-backing Labour MPs have accused the second referendum campaign of playing it too safe and not getting out of London into Leave-voting areas.

MPs lined up to tell HuffPost UK the People’s Vote initiative, spearheaded by Labour MP Chuka Umunna, is stuck in a “comfort zone” and repeating the same mistakes made by the Stronger In campaign ahead of the 2016 EU referendum.

The launch of the People’s Vote – which saw Umunna joined by MPs from the Tories, Lib Dem and Greens – was held in Camden, North London, in April, an area of the country which voted heavily for Remain in 2016.

It is currently recruiting people for another London-based event – march on Westminster on June 23.

But MPs from outside London who are sympathetic to the campaign’s aims are urging its organisers to stop focusing its efforts on areas on Remain-backing areas.

Open Britain, one of the leading groups behind the People’s Vote campaign, said activity was happening across the country to try secure another referendum.

But Labour MP Bridget Phillipson, who represents Houghton and Sunderland South where 62% of voters were estimated to have backed Leave, told HuffPost UK: “A referendum on the deal won’t be won in Camden, and it has to convince people across the country including in areas that tended to vote leave, that not only have the facts changed but also to present a more compelling narrative about why our future, jobs, the economy, their living standards and wages are better off within a European structure.

“Rehashing the same arguments and running the same kind of campaign that failed to persuade a majority of the public in 2016 will not be adequate in a future referendum.”

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Labour MP Bridget Phillipson believes the campaign for another referendum needs to get out into Brexit-voting areas, such as her seat of Houghton and Sunderland South.

Her concerns were shared by fellow north-east MP Phil Wilson, who represents Sedgefield - where 59% of voters are estimated to have backed Leave.

While Wilson praised Umunna fordoing a great job”, he urged for the campaign to “get outside of London and get into Brexit areas”.

Wilson, who succeeded Tony Blair as MP for Sedgefield after the former Prime Minister quit the Commons in 2007, also issued a rallying call to his pro-EU Labour colleagues who represent Leave seats.

He said: “It’s time for Remain campaigners down here [in London] to reach out and it’s time for members of Parliament in Brexit areas who think it’s going to be detrimental to their constituents even though their constituents voted to Leave, they’ve just got to stand up and be counted on this one.

“It’s big, it’s bigger than your party. This is about the future of the country.”

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Green MP Caroline Lucas, Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, Labour MP Chuka Umunna and Conservative MP Anna Soubry at a rally to launch People's Vote, at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, north London.

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An Opinium/Observer poll published on Sunday May 20 showed that 37% of people asked believe there should be a referendum on whether to accept the terms agreed or remain in the EU after all, while 49% think there should not be.

Phillipson and Wilson both agreed a broad range of voices is needed from the People’s Vote campaign if it is to turn public opinion in favour of another referendum.

But both MPs defended the numerous interventions made by Tony Blair, despite the former Prime Minister becoming increasingly unpopular with the public when it comes to Brexit.

“Do we need new voices? Yes. But should Tony Blair stop saying what he’s saying? No”, said Wilson.

Phillipson argued that when Blair speaks “people report it and want to listen”, adding: “In the absence of broader leadership on some of these issues, I think Tony is right to speak up and make clear the consequences of what will happen in the event of a hard Brexit.”

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Chuka Umunna has been praised for his anti-Brexit campaigning.

Another Labour MP raising concerns about the anti-Brexit campaigns is Vernon Coaker, who served as a minister in the Blair and Brown Governments.

The Gedling MP, where 56% of constituents were estimated to have backed Brexit, told HuffPost UK: “As Labour moves forward with respect to Brexit it is crucial we speak out in all areas of the country including those that supported Leave. 

“It is also important that we speak to those who voted Leave n the referendum, particularly as many are traditional Labour voters.”

Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips warned the People’s Vote campaign is falling into the trap of being perceived as “lattes in Camden” instead of addressing key issues for many voters, such as the impact of Brexit on the car industry. 

Phillips. whose constituency backed Leave by 61%, said: “The Remain campaign failed in the first place because it was all about spreadsheets and numbers and not about people’s hearts.

“There is potential that they could make the same mistake again.”

The People’s Vote is a joint campaign encompassing nine separate groups, including Open Britain, Scientists for EU and For Our Future’s Sake.

Responding to the criticism, James McGrory, Executive Director of Open Britain, said: “MPs are absolutely right to say that the People’s Vote campaign must avoid being too London-centric and we cannot succeed if we are only talking to people who already agree with us.

“That’s why we are proud to work with MPs from across the political spectrum and across the whole of the country, in constituencies that voted both Leave and Remain.

“They are absolutely spot-on that we need to engage with people who voted Leave but are worried about the implications of the Brexit deal for their jobs, their families and their communities.

“That’s why the People’s Vote campaign has over 100 grassroots groups around the country, in places that voted Leave as well as those that voted Remain and why on the Saturday of our launch weekend we held 300 activist-led events across the length and breadth of the UK.

“The plan is to keep building on this approach. This summer we’ll be organising events and marches and other campaign activities all across the UK, in order to speak to as many people as possible about the People’s Vote campaign. We think this is too important to be left to 650 MPs in London alone to decide. 65 million people across the whole country must have their voices heard as well.”