The in-fighting saga surrounding the Brexit camps has continued after Vote Leave announced some of the group's top activists would be stepping down from its board. Lobbyist Matthew Elliott, Dominic Cummings, a former special adviser to top Tory Michael Gove, and Victoria Woodcock are all departing from the top body.
But the anti-EU campaigners will be keeping their positions as CEO, campaign director and company secretary, respectively, and the activists will continue to attend board meetings. The shake-up has also seen former Conservative chancellor Lord Lawson be appointed as chair of Vote Leave, while top Labour donor and Eurosceptic John Mills has moved down to deputy chairman.
The changes come after Steve Baker MP, co-chair of Conservatives for Britain, called for "material changes" at the top of the Brexit group after claims in The Times that cabinet minister Chris Grayling was behind a plot to oust Cummings from his post.
"I am delighted to welcome these important changes at Vote Leave," Baker said. "They put the campaign in the best possible position to succeed. Vote Leave, the Vote Leave board, Elliott, Cummings and the team have my thanks and wholehearted support. I am confident Vote Leave will win designation and the referendum so that our country can take back control and leave the EU, which is the safer choice."
The group, which is vying with Leave.EU to be designated the official Brexit campaign nomination from the Electoral Commission, has been accused of "leadership cull" by the pro-EU Britain Stronger in Europe group.
"Sacking three board members and demoting their chairman is the sign of a flailing organisation which reacts to losing the argument by shuffling the deckchairs. Unbelievably, Lord Lawson may not even be chair in a few months' time, being brought in just to 'provide leadership' for the beginning of the campaign," said James McGrory, the chief campaign spokesman of Stronger In.
"The Electoral Commission requires that a referendum campaign be broad-based. For Vote Leave to pack their board with 1980s throwbacks from one party demonstrates that they are narrow, negative and out of touch with modern Britain."
Arron Banks, a Ukip donor and co-founder of the Leave.EU group, told IBTimes UK he hoped the reshuffle would open up another opportunity for the two campaigns to merge as Prime Minister David Cameron wraps up his renegotiation with Brussels.
The EU referendum is now expected in June and the latest opinion poll from ICM, conducted between 29 and 31 January, put "remain" three points ahead of "leave" (42% versus 39%, respectively).