EU referendum: Three of UK's biggest donors to bankroll 'out' campaign

Growing nervousness on pro-EU side that campaign momentum is going the other way

The launch of the Out campaign comes amid growing nervousness among prominent pro-EU campaigners that they are facing an uphill struggle to persuade undecided voters to back Britain’s continued membership of the EU
The launch of the Out campaign comes amid growing nervousness among prominent pro-EU campaigners that they are facing an uphill struggle to persuade undecided voters to back Britain’s continued membership of the EU

Three of the biggest political donors in Britain are to bankroll the campaign to pull the country out of the European Union, it will be announced.

Peter Cruddas, who has given the Tories over £1.2 million will join Labour’s largest individual donor John Mills and Stuart Wheeler who bankrolled Ukip as joint treasurers of the cross party ‘leave’ campaign.

Together the three have a net wealth of over £1 billion and have donated around £3 million to political causes.

The campaign is also being backed by the mobile phone billionaire John Caudwell who founded Phones 4u and who helped bankroll the ‘No to AV’ campaign.

John Mills is Labour’s largest individual donor

Other rich backers who will be announced on 9 October include the banker Alexander Hoare whose family is worth over £300 million and the Christopher Foyle the Chairman of Foyles bookshops.

Sources in the campaign said they expected to raise at least £13 million in the run-up to the official referendum campaign when donations become regulated by the Electoral Commission. This is on top of the £7 million that the campaign will be allowed to spend during the official campaign period.

Under Electoral Commission rules the ‘leave’ campaign will not have to declare any donations they receive before the referendum bill is passed into law - allowing the campaign to amass a secret war chest of undeclared funding.

The launch of the ‘leave’ campaign on 9 October comes amid growing nervousness among prominent pro-EU campaigners that they are facing an uphill struggle to persuade undecided voters to back Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

A poll last month found that the 'remain' campaign has just a 3-per-cent lead while another recent study found undecided voters were much more attracted to the messages of the ‘leave’ campaign.

Peter Cruddas is a Tory donor who has given the party more than £1.2m

A new poll by ICM for the ‘leave’ campaign released on 9 October found 54 per cent of the public are either in favour of leaving or dislike the EU but might vote to stay because they are worried about living standards.

To address this the ‘leave’ camp intend to concentrate their efforts on highlighting the £350 million a week they say the UK save by not contributing to the EU and the economic potential for the country of being free of European regulations.

Unlike the Ukip-backed Leave.Eu campaign the cross party leave campaign – which is backed by Labour, Tory and some Ukip Euro-sceptics - intends not to make immigration an integral part of their message.

“All the polling we’ve down shows that people who are worried about immigration are going to vote ‘out’ anyway,” said a source in the campaign.

“Going on about it is just going to put off undecided voters who we need to woo and re-assure.”

One pro-EU former Conservative minister told The Independent that he was under “no illusion” that supporters of Britain’s membership could lose the campaign warning that he feared they would be damaged by ‘anti politics’ sentiment.

“We could well lose the referendum – I am under no illusion about that,” he said.

“There is such an anti-politics mood around and the other side will tap into that. All the stories about the EU’s failure to deal with migrants arriving at its borders play into that.

“I know I would rather have the EU dealing with it rather than just 28 sovereign states with their own competing interests – but that is an argument we really have to win.”

Stuart Wheeler backs Ukip

A senior Labour source added: “At the moment I’m very pessimistic. It feels like all the momentum is with the other side and that’s not been helped by Jeremy Corbyn’s election. He may say he’s pro-EU but he doesn’t sound very enthusiastic when he talks about it.”

The Independent understands that the ‘remain’ campaign, which is officially due to be launched next week, is receiving significant funding from Lord Sainsbury.

But many big Conservative donors are expected to hold off donating to the campaign until they see the outcome of David Cameron’s renegotiation. This, yes supporters fear, could allow the ‘no’ campaign a head start in financing a ground operation that could prove decisive if the vote is close.

The ‘remain’ campaign also admit it faces an “enthusiasm gap” and needs to find a way to articulate the benefits of Britain’s EU membership in a way that resonates with undecided voters.

“During this referendum campaign we will make the case that staying in Europe makes us stronger, while leaving would be a leap into the dark and a risk we can’t afford to take,” said Lucy Thomas, Deputy Director of the In Campaign.

“We’re looking forward to setting out that case in the coming days.”

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