Inside the People's Vote campaign's final push to stop Brexit

Nicola Tree/Getty ImagesChuka Umunna Labour MP for Streatham and Anna Soubry conservative MP for Broxtowe attends on October 20, 2018 in London, England. Hundreds of thousands of people march from Park Lane to Parliament Square in what is said to be the largest public protest against Brexit so far. The march is to demand a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal amid growing support from MPs from all the main political parties for a final say referendum.
  • The People’s Vote campaign is preparing for the key months ahead in its mission to stop Brexit in 2019.
  • The campaign expects two Conservative MPs, including a current minister, to join next month.
  • One of the campaign’s leading groups has set up a unit for creating ads targeted at constituencies.
  • The unit – known as “Pod” – has strategists with experience of working for David Cameron and Barak Obama.
  • Theresa May has consistently ruled out another referendum.
  • However, with MPs almost certain to vote down her Brexit deal and time running out, many believe the prime minister may be left with no choice but to hold one.

LONDON – The People’s Vote campaign for a second Brexit referendum is on the brink of recruiting at least two Conservative MPs, including one government minister, as it prepares for a pivotal few months in its mission to stop the UK leaving the European Union.

The campaign is gaining momentum amid increasing uncertainty over Brexit. The number of MPs behind it is growing and Theresa May is now a regular user of the term “People’s Vote.”

“We live rent-free in the prime minister’s head these days,” one insider told Business Insider last week, while one of the group’s senior figures said: “I’m chuffed … it means we get coverage even when we don’t do anything!”

The only occasions May actually uses the term are to rule it out altogether. The prime minister is completely against another referendum. She even felt compelled to use a House of Commons statement to attack the idea last week.

Nevertheless, the People’s Vote campaign – which brings together a host of anti-Brexit groups – is increasingly confident that bereft of other options, May will use another vote to break the current parliamentary stalemate.

A senior campaign figure told Business Insider this week that at least two more Conservative MPs would declare their support next month. The pair is set to be a current government minister and an MP from the backbenches.

They will follow in the footsteps of ex-transport minister Jo Johnson and former universities and science minister Sam Gyimah, who both quit the government to back a People’s Vote over the last few weeks.

Jo Johnson Gary LinekerJack Taylor/Getty ImagesGary Lineker and Jo Johnson.

The former in particular caused ripples in Westminster, taking to a stage with the unlikely pro-Remain hero and former footballer Gary Lineker at a People’s Vote rally across the road from the Houses of Parliament in November.

Johnson’s announcement and subsequent public appearance caught even some within the People’s Vote campaign by surprise. An insider revealed how Johnson, brother of ex-Foreign Secretary and staunch Brexiteer Boris, did not want to be interviewed by a political journalist at the event because he felt it would be” too formal,” leading to a mad rush to find a suitable alternative.

“We didn’t know Lineker was confirmed until we picked him up from the station 40 minutes beforehand,” they said.

Project ‘Pod’

Plenty is happening behind the scenes, too.

Best For Britain, one of the most high-profile groups under the People’s Vote umbrella, has assembled a team of seasoned political campaigners who will spend the next few weeks creating ads targeted at specific constituencies.

The unit, known internally as “Pod,” contains three former Labour Party employees and two who used to work for the Conservatives. The unit’s staff have experience running campaigns for former US President Barack Obama, and David Cameron.

READ MORE: Leading Brexiteer tipped to replace Theresa May accused of ‘hypocrisy and dishonesty’ by Cabinet rivals

“Pod” has already started producing anti-Brexit adverts tailored for a total of 74 constituencies. Some seats are represented by Conservative MPs who backed Remain but do not support a People’s Vote, like Nicky Morgan and George Freeman, and Labour MPs who fall under the same category, like Lisa Nandy and Hilary Benn.

For example, for Crewe and Nantwich which marginally voted Leave in 2016, the unit has made an ad which says: “Where will our 1,073 farmers around Crewe be without the £15 million EU support they need?

“I want a final say. Tell your MP we don’t need to miss out.”

Crewe & Nantwich is represented by Labour MP Laura Smith.

The Hastings & Rye seat represented by Work & Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd is also on the list. Rudd made headlines last week when she said they could be a “plausible argument” for another Brexit referendum.

Amber RuddJack Stringer/Getty ImagesAmber Rudd.

Best For Britain has also commissioned constituency-level polling in order to put pressure on Labour MPs to support a People’s Vote. The aim is to pressure MPs into backing a referendum if, or when, May’s deal is voted down by MPs next month.

“They are the key seats we think their MPs are vital to the debate,” a senior campaign source said.

These include seats like Brexit-voting Stoke-in-Trent Central, represented by Labour’s Gareth Snell.

There is a strong belief among People’s Vote campaigners that the key to another referendum lies is securing the backing of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who currently won’t commit to anything beyond simply keeping it “on the table.”

As part of the People’s Vote campaign’s efforts to improve relations with the official opposition, it has developed a close working relationship with anti-racism group, Hope Not Hate. Corbyn ally Samuel Tarry is one of the group’s community organisers and provides a potential new route into the Labour leader’s office.

A so-called People’s Vote has gone from a pipe dream to a very real prospect in just a few months. Downing Street figures privately predict that another referendum will come to pass – no matter how much they don’t want it.

However, campaigners know that cannot afford to rest on their laurels, as the most crucial months lie ahead of them.

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