Matthew Elliott: How Vote Leave is still exerting its influence in Westminster

MEMBERS of the disbanded EU referendum campaign group Vote Leave are at the heart of Government and exerting influence, a key Brexit lobbyist has said.

Chief executive of Vote Leave, Matthew Elliott.
Chief executive of Vote Leave, Matthew Elliott.

Matthew Elliott, the campaign group’s chief executive, said their staff and leading politicians are now in some of the most influential positions in Downing Street as advisors and communications chiefs in Theresa May’s new team.

Vote Leave's biggest coup is naturally Boris Johnson’s promotion to Foreign Secretary, who he describes as a “star” of the campaign.

Mr Elliott, who grew up in Leeds and continues to run eurosceptic group Business for Britain, said: “This is the biggest public policy change that has ever been campaigned for in history.

Vote Leave's influence continues despite the campaign group being officially disbanded.

“If you think of the resources the Government had and the international heads of state like Obama who supported them, and that fact that all the political parties except UKIP lined up against us....of course I’m on a massive high for having won the referendum.

“But I’m very conscious of the fact now we have won the war, we have got to win the peace. I’ve got to stay engaged until we finally leave the EU.”

To this end, his new website Brexit Central, which will be staffed with an editorial team, will launch in September and is designed to track every moment of leaving the EU through news, comment and analysis.

He said: “Vote Leave is no longer but clearly there is still a need for a voice in this debate.”

Vote Leave's influence continues despite the campaign group being officially disbanded.

A list of contributors will be announced next month, through it is not expected that Michael Gove will play a role, though Mr Elliott would like the website to take inspiration from the former cabinet minister's internationalism and optimism.

Vote Leave was set up by Mr Elliott and Dominic Cummings, a political advisor for Mr Gove, the then Justice Secretary and one of the most powerful proponents of the campaign.

From just two people the campaign grew to 120 staff with a Central London head quarters and a budget of £7m - of which they spent nearly every penny - after winning the official ‘leave’ designation from the Electoral Commission.

After the referendum Stephen Parkinson, national organiser for Vote Leave moved to Theresa May’s central team as a key advisor. Lizzie Loudon, who was communications manager for the campaign group is now Mrs May’s press secretary. Lee Cain, was head of broadcast and has moved to become Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom’s political advisor and Robert Oxley, head of media, has moved to become a special advisor for International Development Secretary Priti Patel.

He said: "It's very good that there's a strong Vote Leave presence in the heart of Government."

Dr Liam Fox was on the Vote Leave campaign committee and is now in arguably one of the most important post-Brexit jobs as Secretary of State for International Trade and Selby and Ainsty MP Nigel Adams is described by Mr Elliott as one of the “unsung heroes” of the campaign for his ground work in rallying MPs.

While Mr Elliott said he would mark the Government “ten out of ten” for their efforts to incorporate the Brexiters in Government in just two months, Labour’s Brexit stalwart Gisella Stuart has enormous capacity to take on a significant role.

Asked who from Vote Leave put in an incredible amount of work, he said: “Gisella played an enormous role in the campaign and she has a really important role to play going forward.”

Currently she is chairing the inquiry into the rights of EU migrants with think-tank British Future.

Mr Elliott, 38, was brought up in Roundhay Park, and attended Moor Allerton Hall Primary School, St Matthew’s Middle School and Leeds Grammar School. He studied politics and economics at the London School of Economics and went on to work for MEP Timothy Kirkhope. Later he served as chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and ran the successful NotoAV campaign.

He said: "Ever since David Cameron came back with this deal in February , which didn't amount to very much, people saw through it and saw he hadn't delivered on his reform agenda.

"I was pretty certain what with the right campaign we could win the referendum.

"On the night of the I was awake for 40 hours and it was a momentous occasion and just seeing history unfolding and of course when the 10pm bulletins were playing, everything sounded to be heading towards a Leave defeat and Nigel Farage had conceded already and that we were on a bit of a downer.

"But to see the results from Newcastle, Sunderland and Yorkshire and to win in Birmingham... we became increasingly confident that we were going to do this and win.

"It was an amazing night.

"I'm an organiser. I organise campaigns and this is the career I've set myself. People should be agents of change whether that's work on your local community or on a big national campaign. Everybody should be trying to change the country for better, there's what I've always done."