A group of pro-EU Conservatives have angrily cut their ties with the successor organisation to the remain campaign after it launched a push encouraging voters to unseat prominent pro-Brexit MPs, most of them Tories.
Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve released a joint statement saying it was “untenable” for them to support Open Britain any more after the group released a so-called attack list of MPs to target, including Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers, as well as Labour’s Kate Hoey.
Neil Carmichael, another Conservative who had supported Open Britain, was also reported to have withdrawn his support in the wake of the new election strategy, launched on Tuesday.
“As long-standing Conservative party members and MPs it is untenable for us to play any further role in an organisation such as Open Britain, which is advocating campaigning against Conservative MPs or candidates,” read a statement on Morgan’s Facebook page from her, Soubry and Grieve. It added: “l and we will not be doing so.”
Grieve told the Guardian that he and the others had not been warned in advance about the campaign, which will involve Open Britain trying to mobilise half a million supporters it has on its database to oust prominent Brexiters from parliament.
“If they’re going to launch such a campaign I don’t wish to be associated with it in any shape or form,” Grieve said.
“They’ve been a perfectly respectable organisation, promoting a vision of the future of the United Kingdom which I broadly share. They have no business being a campaigning organisation as a third party in a general election.
“They’ve not consulted us. They’ve never even spoken to us about it, and if they wish to do that, they’re on their own. I’m having absolutely nothing to do with them at all.”
Soubry tweeted that she could no longer back Open Britain given its new tactics:
I am leaving @Open_Britain who have chosen to campaign against excellent One Nation Conservatives like @nicolablackwood …
An Open Britain spokesman said it was “understandable that during an election campaign, political differences between members of different parties become magnified”.
He said: “Open Britain represents activists from all political persuasions who want to campaign against a hard Brexit and for a continued close relationship with Europe.
“As a grassroots organisation, we’ve had thousands of emails from our supporters asking how and where they should campaign during the general election and we are trying to direct them to where they can make the biggest difference in the fight against hard Brexit.
“There is no way of getting involved in an election like this without campaigning for or against members of one party or another, so it was always going to disappoint some within a cross-party organisation. Our key seats list will continue to include support for those willing to campaign against hard Brexit from across the political spectrum.”
The spokesman added that it “had been a pleasure to work with some fantastic Conservative MPs in recent months” and that the group would welcome any future cooperation.
The group has not as yet received any complaints from Labour MPs over its focus on MPs such as Hoey.
Open Britain has teamed up with two other grassroots pro-EU organisations, European Movement and Britain for Europe, providing access to 600,000 supporters for what it has dubbed its “20/20 key seat strategy”.
As well as the 20 seats marked out for attack, the group has drawn up a list of 20 Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs who have been powerful advocates of the closest possible relationship with the EU27. They plan to provide activists to help defend these MPs – many of whom have constituencies that backed Brexit.
Stephen Dorrell, the former Tory MP who chairs European Movement, said: “This election is about something much bigger than party politics – it is about our future relationship with the rest of Europe.
“Pro-Europeans need to stand up and be counted between now and 8 June. The supporters of our organisations want to know where they can make a difference in this campaign and we are providing the tools for them to be able to.”