LONDON (Reuters) - The campaign in Britain for a new Brexit referendum has lurched into crisis after two of the most senior figures in the movement were forced out in a power struggle and some staff staged a walkout in protest.
The idea of a second referendum is viewed by supporters as a way to end three years of political turmoil and paralysis since the 52%-48% vote in June 2016 in favour of Britain leaving the European Union. But the pro-Brexit Conservative government has repeatedly ruled out another popular vote and the campaign has been riven by disagreements over strategy.
Roland Rudd, a millionaire public relations executive and senior figure in the campaign for a new referendum, dismissed James McGrory, director of the People’s Vote campaign, and Tom Baldwin, the group’s head of communications.
But Baldwin said he still planned to turn up for work and accused Rudd of wrecking the campaign.
The sackings come at a pivotal juncture in the Brexit process as parliament must decide whether to approve a new election after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced by his opponents to request an extension to EU membership.
“It doesn’t seem to be the best week to be putting a wrecking ball through the campaign, demoralising staff and demoralising all the thousands and thousands of activists paying for our campaign,” Baldwin told the BBC.
“I’m planning to go into work because we’ve got actually quite a busy week ahead.”
Some staff members decided to walk out in protest on Monday after the duo were asked to leave, according to a source. Employees were later given the day off.
The firings brought to a head long-running divisions over the best way to ensure Britain retains EU membership.
There has been tension between those who believe they should sustain pressure for a new referendum and those wanting a more explicit stance on Britain remaining in the EU without another referendum.
Last week, hundreds of thousands of Britons marched through London to demand a new Brexit referendum. But although some opinion polls have shown a slight shift in favour of “Remain” there has yet to be a decisive change in attitude.
The challenge for pro-referendum forces is finding enough backing in parliament. Although the main opposition party Labour is now backing a second referendum there does not seem to be sufficiently broad support to secure a new popular vote.
The disarray in the movement for another Brexit vote may help Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is raising pressure on lawmakers to hold an early election to break the Brexit impasse.
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Mark Heinrich