- An alliance of anti-Brexit parties including Change UK will not “ever be likely.”
- Change UK: The Independent Group will probably never form an electoral pact with other pro-EU parties, the party’s economics spokesperson Chris Leslie told Business Insider.
- This is despite polls suggesting that Change UK will suffer from the pro-EU vote being split across numerous parties at next month’s European Parliament elections and potentially beyond.
- Leslie said that Change UK was the clearest anti-Brexit option and urged Lib Dems to quit their party.
- The MP played down criticisms of the party’s launch.
LONDON – It is highly unlikely that an electoral alliance between Change UK and other anti-Brexit parties will ever be formed, despite the risk of the pro-Remain vote being split, according to Change UK MP Chris Leslie.
In an interview with Business Insider, Leslie said that while pro-EU parties including Change UK had “issues” in the upcoming European elections and potentially beyond, an anti-Brexit alliance “just wasn’t ever on the agenda.”
Change UK – led by 11 MPs who quit the Conservatives and Labour in February – plans to field candidates to contest all 73 UK seats up for grabs in next month’s European Parliament elections.
The party will interview candidates this week prior to its European elections campaign launch on Tuesday.
Change UK said it had received over 3,700 applications from supporters who want to stand for it in the elections, including figures formerly of the Tories and Labour, plus leading personalities in the pro-EU movement.
While the party’s MPs have been buoyed by the flood of applications, Change UK faces the risk of winning no seats in the European elections due to the anti-Brexit public being split across a number of political parties.
Two YouGov polls published this week put Change UK on 6% and 8%, with other anti-Brexit parties struggling to get above 10%. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party led both polls with 23% and 27% of the intended vote share.
Change UK is set to win no European seats if it stands a separate entity, but an anti-Brexit alliance of Change UK, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens would win 16, according to research by the Financial Times.
Under the EU’s parliamentary election rules, it is too late for Change UK – whose party status was made official earlier this week – to form an official alliance with other parties, even if it wanted to do so.
“Even if you felt that you wanted an alliance between parties, which in itself is a pretty big question, you had to register a party weeks ago to bring together the lists of candidates from TIG, the Lib Dems, and whoever,” Leslie said.
However, he sought to pour cold water on the idea altogether.
“It just wasn’t ever on the agenda… I don’t think it will ever be likely because we are starting something new. We are not joining the Liberal Democrats or the Green Party.”
He urged Lib Dem members to instead leave their party and join Change UK. “The emergency situation we are in demands a completely fresh overhaul of the centre-ground.”
“They [the Lib Dems] have fallen below a critical mass and haven’t had the drive to get out of that for a long time. We [Change UK] are starting afresh and don’t come with that baggage.
“They don’t have any MEPs apart from one in the southeast, so everyone is starting on a fairly level playing field. It is not as though they can say they are in a particularly more advantaged position than anybody else.”
He added that Change UK was the most explicit pro-Remain party, pointing to recent splits in the Lib Dems over whether to support ways of softening the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.
“We have a very clear offer on which all of our candidates will completely agree – People’s Vote, Remain, and reform.
“That’s not quite the case with the others. Certainly not Labour, but not all the Lib Dems are in that space either.”
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable this week expressed his frustration at not being able to arrange an electoral alliance.
“It would be better, I think, from the point of view of the supporters of British membership of the EU if we were fighting together under the same banner,” he told BBC Radio 4.
“All that really matters is that we are going to be on the ballot paper”
Reflecting on a whirlwind few months Change UK, which launched eight weeks ago under the title “The Independent Group,” Leslie said that the significance of its formation had not been “fully appreciated.”
The ex-shadow chancellor said: “We haven’t just decided to exit for the sake of our integrity.
“What we have done further than that is plant a flag broadly in the centre ground to try and see if there is an appetite to bring together those who have felt political homeless as the political parties have moved towards their fringes.
“And to build a better type of politics.”
Leslie dismissed recent suggestions that the party’s launch has been sloppy, telling Business Insider: “All that really matters is that we are going to be on the ballot paper and we will have candidates.”
Critics have pointed to errors like the Electoral Commission’s rejection of its “#Change” emblem on the grounds that it might mislead voters, which means the party might have to contest European elections without a logo.
Leslie acknowledged that the party’s launch hadn’t gone completely to plan.
However, he said that this simply reflected the fact that Change UK was a “grassroots, sleeves-rolled-up, joint enterprise between people who have left slicker parties,” and does not have “the resources or staff of the main parties.”
He added: “Emblems and things like that are nice to have, but we will get there. We are more focused on our policy offer and I think people will understand that this is still in its early days.”