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People's Vote campaign in crisis as Rudd pushes for control

Ben Gartside
Anti-Brexit protesters take part in 'Together for the Final Say' march through central London to demand a public vote on the outcome of Brexit on 19 October. Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty

The People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum over UK’s relationship with the EU has been plunged into crisis after two senior staffer were sacked on Sunday.

James McGrory, the director of People’s Vote and Tom Baldwin, the campaign’s head of communications, were fired last night via email by Roland Rudd, PR guru and chairman of Open Britain, one of the organisations that makes up the People’s Vote campaign.

A crisis meeting was planned for 9am this morning, however Rudd did not attend. According to an eyewitness, Rudd held a meeting elsewhere in the offices with new People’s Vote CEO Patrick Heneghan, and a member of the board.

In the meeting, Rudd identified current People’s Vote deputy director Francis Grove-White as an internal threat, and planned to get the security passes of McGrory and Baldwin cancelled.

While the meeting was going on, pro-EU youth campaigners cleared out their desks, and most staff staged a walkout when Rudd did not appear.

A People’s Vote campaign insider told Yahoo Finance UK: “There currently is no [all team] meeting happening. The staff team at People’s Vote are waiting to have the meeting as promised by Rudd on [BBC Radio 4’s] Today programme this morning. Roland and Patrick are currently in Millbank Tower, refusing to meet staff.”

While waiting for Rudd, upset staff gave speeches articulating how annoyed they were with Rudd’s behaviour, which drew applause heard in neighbouring offices. New CEO Heneghan addressed staffers and faced shouting, according to an eyewitness. One staffer was heard saying said: “Roland's busy sipping lattes and going on Sky News”, addressing the Open Britain director’s decision to go on Sky News instead of addressing staff.

A senior source in the campaign told Yahoo Finance UK that Heneghan “offered no explanation whatsoever”, and said that staff made their feelings clear to him.

Following a staff walkout, Heneghan told them they can have the day off, even as the vast majority had already left.

According to a senior People’s Vote source, the move by Rudd is incredibly damaging to the campaign. “It couldn’t be worse timing – it’s disgraceful ... at this particular juncture [ahead of an early general election vote]. It’s strategically stupid and self-serving – most people looking on will be surprised. Pro-Europeans are interested in this fight which we have built from scratch, James [McGrory] especially. This is an amazing campaign and for a millionaire in his ivory tower to call a board meeting, and sack senior staff which he promised wouldn’t happen is something else. It’s mind boggling.”

The strategy of staffers loyal to McGrory and Baldwin is yet to be decided, with one organising figure in the group saying their plan was to take it “day by day”, and that the group expect to hear from Rudd at 9am tomorrow.