The successor organisation to the Remain campaign in the EU referendum is supporting Naomi Long in an attempt to unseat the outgoing East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson.
But Open Britain is not targeting any other Northern Ireland MP – despite the fact that East Belfast voted Leave in line with its MP’s views, but other constituencies with pro-Brexit MPs voted Remain.
East Belfast is one of 20 of Open Britain’s target seats where it is attempting to remove pro-Brexit MPs, most of whom are Conservatives in England and many of whom are in constituencies where they were on the opposite side of the EU argument to the majority of their constituents.
The organisation – which has a database of about half a million supporters – has pledged its support to Alliance Party leader Mrs Long
In the last general election, Mrs Long was the sitting MP but lost to Mr Robinson – who was backed by a pan-unionist pact – by 2,597 votes. In the referendum, East Belfast voted by a majority of 1,640 votes in favour of leaving the EU.
But the group is not targeting Nigel Dodds – one of the most prominent Brexit voices in Parliament, Tom Elliott or Gregory Campbell, despite the fact that in each case their constituencies voted Remain but the MPs supported a Leave vote.
When asked why it was backing Mrs Long but not challenging any other Northern Ireland MP, an Open Britain spokesman told the News Letter: “Open Britain is proud to be supporting Naomi Long in Belfast East. We are supporting her on the basis of her strongly held pro-European views, and her real chance of winning, which is not the case for all pro-European challengers in Northern Irish seats.”
When asked whether its support would be registered as part of Mrs Long’s campaign expenditure, he said: “We are registering as a third-party campaigner with the Electoral Commission, and we will comply fully with its regulations.”
The Alliance Party said that it had not asked the organisation to support Mrs Long. A party spokesman added: “Open Britain have publicly endorsed Alliance in East Belfast, prior to any candidate being selected.
“They have not approached the party with any offer of support, either financial or in kind, for any Alliance candidate.”
Last week senior Tory members of Open Britain quit the group over its list of 20 target seats.
Pro-EU Conservative MPs Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve and Nicky Morgan resigned from the organisation, saying it was “untenable” for them to remain part of it while it was openly campaigning against many of their party colleagues.
Among the senior Conservative MPs being targeted are former party leader Iain Duncan Smith and former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.
The only Labour MP on the target list is Ulster-born Kate Hoey, an outspoken proponent of Brexit despite her party’s pro-Remain stance.