New anti-Brexit party launches in Britain

The new political party said it already had more than 300 candidates ready to contest the next general election and was aiming to recruit a total of 650 to stand in every constituency in Britain. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) - A new anti-Brexit centrist political party holds its official launch in London Monday (Feb 19), one of several intiatives by pro-European Union campaigners drawing hope from a perceived shift in the British public's mood.

The Renew party, founded last year after French President Macron's En Marche! movement propelled him to power, said it would target pro-Brexit lawmakers in constituencies with high levels of support for EU membership.

"We intend to be tough on Brexit and tough on the causes of Brexit," said James Torrance, the party's head of strategy."We'll pressure MPs to consider the national interest and put Remain back on the table in a vote on the final EU deal."

The party, founded by an accountant, a former journalist and a consultant ahead of last year's general election, plans to contest seats in May local elections and all 650 parliamentary seats if there is a national election.

In the United Kingdom's 2016 referendum, 51.9 percent, or 17.4 million people, voted to leave the EU while 48.1 percent, or 16.1 million, voted to stay. Blocking any withdrawal deal that Prime Minister Therema May brings back from Brussels in October would probably sink her minority government and prompt a national election that could throw Britain's exit into doubt.

"We aim to reverse Brexit and restore our influential position in Europe, allowing us to focus on what really matters in the UK," the party said on its website ahead of the launch in central London.

The fledgling political party said it already had more than 300 candidates ready to contest the next general election and was aiming to recruit a total of 650 to stand in every constituency in Britain.

Co-founder Chris Coghlan stood as an independent candidate in last year's election, running on an anti-Brexit platform, and came fourth with 1,234 votes in Battersea in south London.

The next elections are not due until 2022 but many commentators believe they could come much earlier because of May's precarious leadership and feuding inside her Conservative party.

Several campaigns have emerged in recent weeks calling for a re-run of the EU membership referendum and putting pressure on MPs to oppose a Brexit agreement when it comes before parliament as expected this year.

One of them, Best for Britain, captured the headlines this month because of a large donation from billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros.

Former Labour party politician Andrew Adonis, a member of the House of Lords, has launched his own campaign alongside the youth group "Our Future, Our Choice".

'A nation divided'

May campaigned for a "remain" vote in 2016, but now insists Britain will leave at 2300 GMT on March 29, 2019. She says there will be no rerun of the referendum.

An ICM survey published last month showed 47 per cent of voters favour having a final say on Brexit once the terms of the departure are known, while 34 per cent oppose a rerun of the referendum. But the survey showed just a two-percentage-point lead for remaining in the EU once the "don't knows" are excluded.

EU leaders, if they voted unanimously, could allow Brexit to be delayed if there was political turmoil in Britain on the eve of Brexit. That would still probably leave investors uncertain about the nature of the future trading relationship.

Among those who have called for Brexit to be halted are former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Goldman Sachs Group Inc Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and George Soros, who made a fortune by betting against the British pound in 1992.

"We have had informal discussions with En Marche," said Torrance, a former accountant who helped found Renew. "They are providing advice to us about how they got going in France. So we can understand that in more detail and apply some of the lessons from that."

Renew has so far received about 100,000 pounds in donations, including 30,000 from a lawyer and 20,000 from a restaurant owner, according to a senior party official.

Supporters of Brexit say attempts to stop Brexit run against the democratic will of the people and could thrust Britain into a constitutional crisis.

Opinion polls since last year's general election have shown growing support for staying in the bloc but polling expert John Curtice said last month that it was "not exactly a dramatic change".

Curtice also said that there was "not of lot of evidence in support of the idea that there has been a dramatic increase in support for a second referendum".

Renew said it aims to address what it called the root causes of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

"The Brexit referendum was a wake-up call that we are a nation divided, with deep discontent at inequality.

"Leaving the EU will only make things worse. We should reconsider Brexit, now we know more," it said.

The party said it would focus on inequality by increasing the minimum wage, boosting infrastructure outside London and creating more affordable housing.

It said it would also "look at better ways to manage immigration" - one of the main issues in the campaign.

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