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Express: Humiliation for Peter Mandelson as europhile Tory MPs QUIT anti-Brexit campaign

Date: 25 04 2017

Humiliation for Peter Mandelson as europhile Tory MPs QUIT anti-Brexit campaign

LABOUR peer Peter Mandelson today suffered a humiliating blow as senior Tory MPs quit his campaign against Britain’s clean exit from the EU.

The former EU commissioner, a board member of the Open Britain group, is urging voters to back candidates opposed to a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit at the June 8 general election.

Open Britain, also supported by ex-prime minister Tony Blair, have released a hitlist of 20 MPs – who either support Brexit or have not spoken out against it – which they are urging supporters to help try and unseat at the general election.

The former EU commissioner, a board member of the Open Britain group, is urging voters to back candidates opposed to a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit at the June 8 general election.

Open Britain, also supported by ex-prime minister Tony Blair, have released a hitlist of 20 MPs – who either support Brexit or have not spoken out against it – which they are urging supporters to help try and unseat at the general election.

They are also calling on supporters to campaign in favour of another list of 20 MPs who are publicly opposed to a ‘hard’ Brexit.

But Open Britain’s campaign was hit by a setback within hours of its launch as three senior Tory MPs – who all supported Remain last year – walked out of the group.

Ex-education secretary Nicky Morgan, former attorney-general Dominic Grieve and ex-business minister Anna Soubry all withdrew their support for Open Britain today after refusing to campaign against fellow Conservative MPs.

Eighteen of the group’s 20 target seats for removing the existing MP were focussed against Tories.

In a statement on behalf of her three Conservative colleagues, Ms Morgan said: “As long standing Conservative Party members and MPs it is untenable for us to play any further role in an organisation such as Open Britain, which is advocating campaigning against Conservative MPs or candidates.

“I and we will not be doing so.”

Ms Soubry said: “This sort of blatant partisanship further divides our country when we must all come together.”

Open Britain have teamed up with fellow pro-EU groups European Movement and Britain for Europe to launch their general election strategy, with the organisations’ boasting 600,000 supporters between them.

Responding to their setback today, an Open Britain spokesman said: “It is understandable that during an election campaign political differences between members of different parties become magnified.

“Open Britain represents activists from all political persuasions who want to campaign against a hard Brexit and for a continued close relationship with Europe.

“As a grassroots organisation, we’ve had thousands of emails from our supporters asking how and where they should campaign during the General Election and we are trying to direct them to where they can make the biggest difference in the fight against hard Brexit.

“There is no way of getting involved in an election like this without campaigning for or against members of one party or another, so it was always going to disappoint some within a cross-party organisation.

“Our key seats list will continue to include support for those willing to campaign against hard Brexit from across the political spectrum.

“It has been a pleasure to work with some fantastic Conservative MPs in recent months and our door will always be open after the election to any that want to work with us in the future.”

Richard Tice, co-chairman of Brexit campaigners Leave Means Leave, said: “Open Britain have been in denial about the reality that Britain is leaving the EU. They need to wake up and embrace the democratic decision for Brexit.

“They have continually demonstrated how out of touch they really are. Resigning from Open Britain is the right thing to do.”

Those seats being targeted by the pro-EU campaigners include leading Brexit supporters such as Labour MP Kate Hoey, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and ex-Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers.

Launching Open Britain’s general election efforts, Lord Mandelson had said: “As a former European Trade Commissioner, I have seen such negotiations from the inside. For Britain to get the best possible trade deal, it is totally counter-productive for Theresa May to go into them with a rigid set of red lines.

“With millions of jobs at stake, she must explore all options to secure the continuity of Britain’s trade and investment in Europe.

“Election candidates of all parties should be demanding that a hard Brexit is rejected and making clear that they will reserve judgement on the outcome until they see whether we get exactly the same trade benefits, as [Brexit Secretary] David Davis has promised.

“Nobody has to take a position on this now: they just have to ask the right questions and keep an open mind about the answers.”

April 25th, 2017: Express