The cross-party People’s Vote campaign – which presses for a second EU referendum – has been accused of taking orders from senior Labour figures in breach of its requirements to operate in a non-partisan fashion.
Sources in the breakaway Change UK party have said the way “Labour-orientated people” were now running the campaign had become a “very real problem”.
The growing row surfaced last week after attempts by the pro-Remain parties to unite behind a single independent candidate in the forthcoming Peterborough by-election collapsed in disarray when the prospective candidate, Femi Oluwole, pulled out at the last minute.
Change UK complained he had been subjected to “extreme pressure” from Labour Party figures working for the People’s Vote who were said to have warned him that he could open the door for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party to take the seat – previously held by Labour – in the poll on June 6.
Sources in the party said the incident highlighted serious concern about the way People’s Vote – whose founder members included MPs Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry, who both now sit for Change UK – was now operating.
“There are big questions over its impartiality. We are not the only party that has raised concerns about that in terms of the way that it is supposed to operate. It takes instructions to some extent directly from members of Labour’s shadow cabinet,” one Change UK source said.
“The members of staff of the People’s Vote campaign are supposed to be independent, non-partisan and cross-party.
“There is a legal obligation on them to do so, otherwise under electoral law, their spending can be deemed to be part of the Labour Party’s spending.”
The source questioned why the campaign’s website endorsed Labour as a People’s Vote party when its manifesto committed it to taking Britain out of the EU.
“Continually pretending that the Labour Party is committed to a People’s Vote when the leadership of the party says their first priority is to facilitate Brexit is no longer credible, but the People’s Vote campaign persist in doing this at the behest of the Labour-orientated people running the organisation,” the source said.
People’s Vote dismissed the claim that staff on the campaign were taking orders from members of the shadow cabinet as “ridiculous”, and denied interfering in the candidate selection in the Peterborough by-election.
“Femi would have made an utterly brilliant candidate, but decided against it because it might have increased the chances of the Brexit Party winning, caused legal complications, and would have been hard to mount a campaign from a standing start,” a People’s Vote spokesman said.
“The People’s Vote campaign is not and never will be a political party. In order to secure a People’s Vote, we’re going to need to work with all parties and are best able to do that as a strictly cross-party campaign.”
In a article last week for The Independent, Mr Oluwole said that he had sought advice from fellow activists, politicians, friends and family, but that his decision to not to stand “rests on my shoulders”.
A campaign spokesman said they had “very clearly caveated” what they had said about Labour, describing party’s support for a People’s Vote as “mealy-mouthed”.