November 24, 2015 / 2:45 PM / 4 years ago

British EU 'out' leader proposes merger with rival to boost campaign

LONDON (Reuters) - The main patron of a group campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union has proposed merging with a rival organisation to prevent splitting the “out” votes in a referendum on EU membership.

More than half of Britons want to leave the European Union with voters increasingly anxious over the bloc’s security after Islamist militant attacks on Paris that killed 130 people, according to an opinion poll published on Tuesday.

While Prime Minister David Cameron tries to win concessions from other EU leaders ahead of a referendum due by late 2017, opponents of membership have created two rival campaign groups which some activists have cautioned could splinter the vote.

In a letter to the Vote Leave group, Arron Banks, a multi-millionaire insurance tycoon who is bankrolling the rival Leave. EU campaign, said the two campaigns should join forces.

“The chances of accomplishing the historic victory that all Eurosceptics, of whatever hue, are yearning to achieve are being damaged,” Banks, who also finances the anti-EU UK Independence Party, said in the letter which Reuters has seen.

“If you want to leave the EU, you are on our side. We should be one winning team,” Banks said in the letter, which was sent to Matthew Elliot, the head of Vote Leave.

When asked about the chances of a merger, Robert Oxley, a spokesman for Vote Leave, said: “We have seen the letter. It is a matter for the Vote Leave board.”

The opponents of British membership face a single ‘in’ campaign called Britain Stronger In Europe - which is led by Stuart Rose, a former CEO of the Marks & Spencer retailer.

If Cameron wins the concessions he wants, then he has said he will campaign for Britain to stay in the bloc that it joined in 1973, but the British leader has warned he rules nothing out if he doesn’t get what he wants.

While combining the two Eurosceptic groups could strengthen the campaign to leave the European Union, there are deep personal divisions and a senior Conservative source close to the Vote Leave campaign cast doubt on the chances of a merger.

“A number of supporters and donors have serious concerns about joining up with someone who has spent a fair amount of time attacking fellow Eurosceptics,” the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “If you are really serious about a merger why was the letter immediately leaked?”

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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