The families of two of Britain’s pre-eminent political figures of the 20th-century have launched a scathing attack on anti-EU campaigners, for using their relatives to try to persuade voters to back a vote to leave.
Sir Winston Churchill and Emmeline Pankhurst were featured in campaign video released by the main anti-EU campaign group, Vote Leave.
Churchill’s grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames, said the wartime leader was a “profound believer in the values of European co-operation”, and suggested that Churchill’s views would never have aligned with those of the Vote Leave campaign.
Meanwhile Helen Pankhurst, Emmeline’s granddaughter, said the suffragette who was instrumental in the battle for equality had been a “great internationalist”, and the whole family was in favour of Britain remaining in the EU.
The video that sparked their anger highlighted the achievements of Britons such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale in shaping the worlds of politics, science and human endeavour.
It ends by saying: “British heroes changed the world. Don’t believe those who talk Britain down, those who say we are too weak to control our own affairs. Let’s take control. Vote Leave.”
Winston Churchill was a profound believer in the values of European co-operation and the need for it, and I am very disappointed to see these people twisting his views
Sir Nicholas, the Conservative MP for Mid Sussex, said the inclusion of his grandfather Sir Winston Churchill was “offensive”. “Vote Leave has absolutely no right to use my grandfather in their campaign, and they really must stop doing this immediately,” he said.
“Winston Churchill was a profound believer in the values of European co-operation and the need for it, and I am very disappointed to see these people twisting his views to suit their own ends.
“This is made more offensive to his family since they did not have the courtesy to consult us beforehand. The only decent course for Vote Leave is to take this video down and to apologise for their dishonourable action.”
Ms Pankhurst added: “Numbering Emmeline among the prominent supporters of the Vote Leave campaign is outrageous.
“The Pankhursts were great internationalists, believing in breaking down borders across the world. Although Emmeline was in favour of the First World War, she lived in, and loved, France.
“For Britain to move out of the European Union would have appalled her and her suffragette daughters.
“Today, her grandson Richard, his son and daughter Alula and Helen, and other members of the family around the world do not support the campaign to take Britain out of Europe.
“We ask that the mention of Emmeline in the video is removed – with an apology.”
Vote Leave, which produced the “heroes” video, is determined to ensure that its campaign against Britain’s membership of the EU is not portrayed as being simply about immigration and anti-Brussels sentiment.
The group has tried to craft a message highlighting the positive benefits to the UK outside of the European Union, in a deliberate attempt to reassure swing voters who don’t like the EU but are worried about “going it alone”. However, as the campaign heats up, every public utterance on each side of the debate is being intensely scrutinised by opponents, in an attempt to discredit the other’s cause.
Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of Vote Leave, said his organisation stood by its video and would not be apologising to the living descendants of Churchill and Pankhurst.
“The Britain Stronger in Europe campaign and Cameron talk Britain down,” he said. “British heroes helped change the world – we can do that again if we take back control and spend our money on our priorities.”