50 groups behind Article 50 – Part I

50 groups behind Article 50 – Part I

With the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act now on the statute book, we can look forward to Theresa May triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty before the end of the month, putting the UK firmly on the path to being free of the clutches of the European Union in two years’ time.

The successful securing of a Leave vote last June was the culmination of years – decades in numerous cases – of work by many people and many groups dedicated to campaigning for a change in the UK’s relationship with the EU. Additionally, much work has been done since the referendum – some of it behind the scenes, away from public view – to ensure that the verdict delivered on 23rd June last year was translated into action by the Government, allowing us to reach this point where Article 50 is on the verge of being triggered.

The commentariat often suggested that the disparate nature of the eurosceptic movement was a big weakness: the fact that there were so many different groups with differing – and in some cases contradictory – agendas working to secure the same result at the referendum. But in fact, and with the added benefit of hindsight, this was actually one of the greatest strengths of those who campaigning for Brexit: it meant that the Leave movement was able to cover a multitude of related issues and positions and appeal to the full range of demographic groups in the electorate.

So this weekend we want to recognise fifty groups and organisations that contributed over the years to the collective Brexit effort. Some are well-known campaigning organisations, political parties or think-tanks with a national reputation; others are smaller pressure groups you may not have even heard of, but which nevertheless played a role in influencing public opinion and the terms of the debate or in marshalling support for Brexit. Some have existed for years are are still going strong; others have had a role to play during a particular period in our 40-odd year relationship with the EU; while some were founded specifically to campaign in the run-up to last year’s referendum or indeed in its direct aftermath.

Dare we say it, no list of this kind can be entirely comprehensive and there may be groups who feel they should have been included: apologies for any that fall into that category. What follows are the first 25 of the groups whose contribution we want to recognise; tomorrow we will publish the second half of the list.

Anti-Common Market League
The original eurosceptic organisation, set up in 1961 by John Paul to oppose Harold Macmillan’s (then unsuccessful) move to take the UK into the Common Market. It campaigned for increased association with NAFTA and the English-speaking world and for many years indefatigable maverick Tory backbencher Sir Richard Body served as its President.

Anti-Federalist League
Founded by LSE academic Dr Alan Sked in 1991 to campaign against the Maastricht Treaty, it contested seventeen seats at the 1992 general election and Sked stood in a couple of by-elections in 1993, but no candidate ever saved a deposit. Later in 1993 the fledgling organisation would would rebrand as the United Kingdom Independence Party…

BeLeave was a digital campaign advocating a Leave vote at the EU referendum aimed towards younger voters and run by Darren Grimes and Shahmir Sanni. It targeted younger voters who supported its liberal, internationalist, outward-looking message, campaigning for fair immigration, a global Britain and one in which your vote and voice matters outside of the undemocratic European Union.

Bruges Group
In September 1988 Margaret Thatcher gave a speech to the College of Europe in Bruges in which she declared: “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels”. In February 1989 the Bruges Group was founded by Lord Harris of High Cross as an independent think-tank to promote this emerging eurosceptic vision, working to this day with parliamentarians, publishing a considerable number and range of pamphlets and holding meetings to advance the cause. Following on from Jonathan Collett, Robert Oulds has long served as Director, with figures like Martin Holmes, Brian Hindley, Barry Legg, Lord Tebbit and Lord Lamont providing intellectual ballast over the years.

Business for Britain
Business for Britain was founded by Matthew Elliott in 2013 in the wake of David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech in which he committed to seeking a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU followed by an In/Out referendum. BfB was co-chaired by Alan Halsall and John Mills and supported by other influential figures like Peter Cruddas, Daniel Hodson and Jon Moynihan. It had several aims: to demonstrate that the business community was divided on the question of European integration (countering the narrative of the blindly pro-EU CBI); to support attempts to get parliamentary approval for an EU Referendum Bill; and to bring together business leaders who supported a referendum and a fundamental change in the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Significantly, BfB worked to outline how Britain could prosper outside the EU if reform was not possible, culminating in the publication of the 1,000-page Change, or Go report, published in 2015. The Editorial Board for this magnum opus was headed up by Jon Moynihan, and the research and analysis was largely done by William Norton, Oliver Lewis and Lee Rotherham, all of whom went on to have key roles in Vote Leave. Once it became clear that reform on the scale required was not going to be achieved by David Cameron, those running Business for Britain established the Vote Leave campaign in advance of the 2016 referendum. Another notable Business for Britain alumni includes Georgiana Bristol – who worked with Matthew Elliott at NOtoAV, went to be the Development Director at Vote Leave and now works with us at BrexitCentral – and Julie Moody, who was Business for Britain’s Regional Director during the referendum campaign.

Business for Sterling
After Labour won the 1997 general election with a landslide majority, there was deep concern that Tony Blair would seek to take Britain into the euro. While the Conservative Party under William Hague was opposed to the UK joining the single currency (at least for one Parliament), its brand was less than universally popular and it needed others to help make the case for keeping the pound. So Business for Sterling was founded in June 1998 by former Labour Cabinet Minister Lord Marsh with heavyweight backing from the likes of Lord Kalms, Lord Leach of Fairford and Lord Hanson with (future MP and Remain campaigner) Nick Herbert as Chief Executive. It would ally with New Europe to form the no campaign.

Caistor Group
Caistor was the venue in April 2015 for an EU information seminar that acted as a spur for developing better links between eurosceptic campaigners. As the referendum drew close, it transformed into a more formal Contact Group under the chairmanship of David Campbell-Bannerman MEP and then subsequently Chris Grayling MP. The group was hosted by Matthew Elliott, first at Business for Britain’s headquarters at Tufton Street and later at Vote Leave’s offices in Westminster Tower. The group acted as a round table mechanism for participating groups, allowing a measure of deconfliction and identifying some key issues that were subsequently addressed (as well as some that weren’t). Its association with Vote Leave was cited by the Electoral Commission as the defining factor in the designation battle.

Campaign for an Independent Britain
Another one of the longest-standing eurosceptic organisations, founded in 1969 as a coalition bringing together groups and individuals opposed to UK entry to the Common Market when the existing EEC members gave a green light to negotiations with the British government. The CIB opposed British entry in 1973, supported our exit in the 1975 referendum and has sought UK withdrawal in the ensuing decades. Lord Stoddart of Swindon has been a stalwart supporter, with figures like the late Sir Robin Williams, Edward Spalton and George West playing a key role over the years. It functioned as a membership campaign (for instance, organising a speakers’ rally outside the Bank of England over the euro), a publisher of campaign booklets, and a grassroots liaison hub with the likes of CAFE and CAEF becoming affiliates. It is also worth noting that the establishment of an Oxford University branch of CIB was an early political act of future MEP Daniel Hannan in 1992.

Change Britain
Launched after the 2016 referendum by Labour MP Gisela Stuart with the backing of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Peter Cruddas along with a number of other Vote Leave alumni including Alex Hickman, Chloe Westley, Damon Poole and Nick Varley. Change Britain has built a national grassroots movement committed to making a success of leaving the EU and ensuring the referendum result is respected.

Christians for Britain
Christians for Britain was set up by left-leaning Rev. Giles Fraser and right-leaning Adrian Hilton to make the case in advance of the 2016 referendum as to why Christians should vote to leave the EU. It had the notable support of Ann Widdecombe, Lord Carey and Edward Fox. They promoted their message using online campaigning and social media as well as public meetings across the country.

City for Britain
The City for Britain, chaired by Daniel Hodson, was set up in advance of the 2016 referendum to make the case for how the City of London and the financial services industry could actually do better outside of the EU. It played an important role in challenging the establishment consensus that Brexit would be universally bad for the City and since the referendum Hodson has helped establish the Financial Services Negotiation Forum to help provide the UK’s negotiators with the information they need to help secure the best arrangements for the City post-Brexit.

A Westminster-based think-tank that was not involved in the 2016 referendum itself, but which pumped out regular research during the 2010s promoting opposition to continued British membership of the EU written by Director, David Green, and Michael Burrage.

Conservatives Against a Federal Europe
CAFE, as the group was known, was an already-established though small campaign when it was reformed around the group of eight Tory MPs who lost the party whip for rebelling against John Major over Europe in 1994. It was a particular force during the 1997-2001 Parliament, with approaching 100 Conservative parliamentarians signed up as Vice Presidents in order to back the line – seen as very controversial at the time – that the UK must withdraw from the EU if power over a series of areas were not to be repatriated. Run by future Minister Mike Penning, David Prole, James Gladstone (a great nephew of the former Prime Minister) and Lee Rotherham, its importance as a vehicle diminished when Vice President Iain Duncan Smith became Tory leader in 2001

Conservatives for Britain
Conservatives for Britain was a group of eurosceptic Conservative parliamentarians who were instrumental in delivering the referendum result. Co-chaired by Steve Baker MP and David Campbell-Bannerman MEP, it was supported by scores of Conservative MPs and other senior figures including Lord Lawson and Lord Lamont. They called for a fundamental change in the UK’s relationship with the EU, before throwing their support behind Vote Leave after the failure of David Cameron’s renegotiation. Conservatives for Britain supporters included Bernard Jenkin MP who also played a vital role in co-ordinating the Government’s defeat over purdah rules in the EU referendum, ensuring a level playing field for the final weeks of the campaign.

Democracy Movement
After the Referendum Party was wound up, Annabel Goldsmith kept the spirit of her late husband’s party alive by launching the Referendum Movement in November 1997, which was renamed the Democracy Movement the following year. Paul Sykes and Robin Birley became chairman and vice chairman respectively, with Russell Walters, Stuart Coster and Marc Glendening variously running the group’s campaigning activities.

Democratic Unionist Party
The largest party in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party was one of only two major political parties formally to back Brexit at the 2016 referendum, along with UKIP. DUP MPs had long been signatories to the Better Off Out campaign and by officially supporting the Vote Leave campaign, they helped to ensure that the Leave message reached all four constituent nations of the UK by playing a key role in campaigning for Brexit across Northern Ireland.

Economists for Britain/Economists for Brexit
Economists for Britain was a group of pro-Brexit economists, closely aligned with the Vote Leave campaign – chaired by Andrew Lilico and originally supported by Ruth Lea – playing an important role in providing a credible economic voice calling for Brexit and calling out the implausibly pessimistic predictions of mainstream economic forecasters before the referendum.

In April 2016 Economists for Brexit was founded by a further group of pro-Brexit economists including Patrick Minford, Gerard Lyons, Roger Bootle and Ryan Bourne, determined to refute the establishment groupthink that a vote to Leave would trigger a recession and reject the narrative that all economists believed that Brexit was a bad idea. Needless to say, they have been thoroughly vindicated by the performance of the British economy since the referendum, and have since relaunched with an expanded membership as Economists for Free Trade.

European Foundation
After the parliamentary battles over the Maastricht Treaty, Bill Cash MP established the European Foundation in 1993 to help campaign both in the UK and across Europe in favour of reforming the EU into a community of free-trading, sovereign states. Its regular publication, The European Journal, provided an outlet for arguments to be made and advanced and the work of the Foundation has been promoted over the years by stalwarts such as Russell Lewis, Andrew Rosindell, Allister Heath, Matthew Elliott, Tony Lodge, James Barr and Annunziata Rees-Mogg. Their work – and that of many eurosceptic campaigners – was also informed by the efforts of Anthony Cowgill’s British Management Data Foundation, which successfully made the European treaties comprehensible to the layman. The outreach to the wider eurosceptic research community generated by The European Journal subsequently inspired the creation in 2015 of the ‘Brains Trust’, a small group of eurosceptic subject matter experts who met monthly to discuss and deconflict research as the referendum drew near.

European Research Group
In its initial incarnation, the ERG was founded by Tory backbencher Sir Michael Spicer in 1994, with Daniel Hannan running its activities. Believing in an enlarged EU of free-trading independent nation states, it helped bring together like-minded parliamentarians from across the continent, acting as a focus for eurosceptics of all hues in the late 1990s and early 2000s – rather like the Anti-Maastricht Alliance did for campaigners in the early 1990s under the late Lionel Bell – and organising the Congress for Democracy. David Heathcoat-Amory was Chairman while a delegate to the Convention on the Future of Europe, resulting in the ERG’s Matthew Glanville operating as an important part of his tiny support team opposing the EU Constitution. In more recent years, MEP-turned-MP Chris Heaton-Harris kept the ERG flag flying and then in the wake of the 2016 referendum victory, Steve Baker took over as Chairman, ably aided behind the scenes by Christopher Howarth and Christopher Montgomery, bringing together Conservative and DUP MPs supporting the Government in delivering Brexit.

Farmers for Britain
Despite a number of polls showing that a majority of farmers actually backed Brexit, the National Farmers Union nonetheless decided officially to support Remain at the referendum. Farmers for Britain, supported by Farming Minister George Eustice and former Defra Secretary Owen Paterson, played a vital role in giving a voice to the majority of farmers who wanted to leave the EU with its stifling bureaucracy and much-criticised Common Agricultural Policy.

Freedom Association/Better Off Out
Founded in 1975 as the National Association for Freedom by Viscount De L’Isle with Norris and Ross McWhirter, the Freedom Association (as it was renamed in 1978) put an increasing focus on the threat to freedom posed by the EU in the early 1990s after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Once a putative European Constitution was on the table in 2006, TFA Director Simon Richards established a specific campaign, Better Off Out, to make the case for withdrawal and act as a rallying point for MPs who were supportive of that position, initially headed up by Mark Wallace and latterly overseen by Rory Broomfield.

At first it attracted the support of only half a dozen Tory MPs and the eurosceptic Labour MP Austin Mitchell, and Lord Tebbit became its Patron, but in the ensuing years DUP MPs and other Tories signed up. Once it was clear an EU referendum was on the cards, the Freedom Association campaigned hard for Brexit, distributed millions of pieces of literature, and during the campaign proper TFA and Better Off Out debated at approximately 100 meetings across the UK.

Get Britain Out
Established by Toby Blackwell and run by Jayne Adye, Get Britain Out has for some years produced eye-catching research helping make the case for Brexit and used its considerable social media presence to reach millions of people during and after the referendum campaign.

Global Britain
Founded in 1997 by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, Lord Stoddart of Swindon and Lord Harris of High Cross under the directorship of Ian Milne, Global Britain has always made the case for a prosperous Britain outside of the EU. Its main focus has been on ensuring parliamentarians were well briefed on relevant issues, with its eurofacts newsletter providing a wealth of useful material before the internet became the main medium for sharing such information. Its founders will have been gratified that “Global Britain” was used by Theresa May as the theme for her historic Lancaster House speech in January 2017.

Global Vision
Established in 2007 by leading economist, Ruth Lea, and Lord Blackwell, Global Vision pushed for a looser relationship for the UK with the EU, based on trade and mutual recognition, while opting out of political and economic union. Both had previously been involved at the Centre for Policy Studies, which itself had regularly published pamphlets advancing eurosceptic arguments, particularly in the 1990s and early 2000s under Tessa Keswick’s directorship.

Green Leaves
A campaign group established in advance of the referendum, chaired by Mark Hill and backed by Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, for greens and environmentalists opposed to the UK remaining in the EU. It argued that while all major parties were backing a Remain vote, the EU was beyond reform, noting its protectionism against developing countries and the mass youth unemployment it has caused in many parts of the eurozone.

Click here to view the next 25 groups.