Carswell said on Sunday that Vote Leave, the prominent anti-EU group he is backing, had a “very different strategic approach” to that adopted by Leave.EU and Grassroots Out (GO), the two other leading out campaign groups.
He also claimed Ukip was “equidistant” between the two approaches, even though his party leader, Nigel Farage, emailed members at the end of last week to say Ukip was formally backing the GO/Leave.EU faction.
For weeks, relations between the rival out groups have been growing increasingly fractious, with many reports focusing on personality clashes and criticism of Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s combative campaign director.
But, in interviews on the BBC and Sky News, Carswell said the split was not really about personalities but instead about how best to fight the campaign.
Carswell said Vote Leave wanted to run a campaign that was “optimistic, upbeat, internationalist, a campaign that focuses on the economy”. But Leave.EU want to focus “primarily on the issues of identity and on immigration,” he said.
Leave.EU is expected to form an alliance with GO and other anti-EU groups and submit a bid to the electoral commission to be recognised as the lead organisation for the out campaign in the referendum. Vote Leave will also apply for the designation, meaning the commission will have to choose which of the two groups gets to obtain a grant worth up to £600,000, free mailing, election broadcasts and a total spending limit of £7m.
Alternatively, the commission could decide not to designate a lead campaign group for the out camp. If that were to happen, Britain Stronger in Europe, which seems certain to be designated the in campaign lead, would not get the grant, free mailing or broadcasts either, but would have the £7m spending limit.
Carswell also said that although Farage was “absolutely fantastic at reaching out to people who are fed up with politics” the out campaign needed to appeal more widely.
“We need to reach out to the 87% of people who didn’t vote Ukip, and that’s why we need a broad-based, optimistic, upbeat campaign.”
Carswell’s assessment of the difference between Vote Leave and the rival out groups is shared by those on the other side. In his email to Ukip members on Friday, Farage said he and other Ukip MEPs had “grave doubts” about Vote Leave because of the tactics they were adopting.
“[Vote Leave] do not believe that open borders, immigration and our security are key to this referendum. All polling shows that they are wrong,” he wrote.
“Of course we must debate economics and the business case in order to combat the fears put out by politicians and their big business supporters. But amongst the undecided voters the top issue by far and the one that will influence where their vote goes is our lack of border controls as EU members.”
Vote Leave used to have the full backing of Labour Leave, the party’s anti-EU group, but at the end of last week Labour Leave effectively split as some of its members declared they could no longer work with Vote Leave.
Kate Hoey, the Labour MP and Labour Leave co-chair, told the Sunday Telegraph she did not want to be associated with Vote Leave any more because she objected to their style of campaigning.
She explained: “We felt Vote Leave was not actually doing anything at the grassroots, genuinely not doing much at all – appointing all these people with grand titles, spending lots of money on organisers.
“They are always trying to do down Leave.EU by saying it’s a Ukip front. We have been working now for a while with all these people and it’s not true.”
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