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Brexit vote: 5 key players who used campaign to further political ambitions

For the record and before television cameras, leading lights of the two camps – Remain and Leave – insist it is all about issues, but the bitter campaign before Thursday’s referendum on Britain’s future in the EU has been as much about personalities and political ambition.

Britain EU Referendum Updated: Jun 23, 2016 15:08 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
An illuminated ‘In or Out’ sign is pictured outside a house in Hangleton near Brighton in southern England as Britain holds a referendum on wether to stay or leave the European Union (EU).
An illuminated ‘In or Out’ sign is pictured outside a house in Hangleton near Brighton in southern England as Britain holds a referendum on wether to stay or leave the European Union (EU).(AFP Photo)

For the record and before television cameras, leading lights of the two camps – Remain and Leave – insist it is all about issues, but the bitter campaign before Thursday’s referendum on Britain’s future in the EU has been as much about personalities and political ambition.

So much so that ambitions appeared never far behind, particularly those of popular Leave leader, Boris Johnson. He was even accused on live television that instead of figures about economy, the only number he was concerned about was No 10 (Downing Street).

Read: Live: Will Britain stay in or leave the EU? Poll in historic referendum underway

Frontline campaign leaders have long held their views about the European Union passionately, which came across clearly. But it is also true that the political future of several key individuals will depend on the referendum outcome on Friday.

Some leading players in Brexit:

1) David Cameron: As the prime minister, he led the government’s position on the referendum to remain in the EU. He campaigned vigorously, taking into his stride attacks on live television – a student accused him of waffling – and insisted that leaving the EU was not in Britain’s interest. There is talk he may have to resign if the vote is to leave the EU, but he has said he will carry out the decision of the British public, whichever way the vote goes.

Read: The big Brexit question: If Britain is not to be European, what is it?

2) Boris Johnson: His joining the Leave camp surprised many. A close friend and associate of Cameron, the former London mayor is said to have agonised over the decision not to be pro-EU, writing two versions of his widely read Monday column in The Daily Telegraph: each seeking to justify rival positions, but ultimately he went along with the one with the Leave position. Tipped to be the prime minister if Cameron resigns; also seen as a strong candidate as the next Conservative leader.

3) Priti Patel: One of six ministers in the Cameron government in the Leave camp, Patel has long held Eurosceptic views. Even her most bitter critics – and there are quite a few in the Indian community too – admit she stood by her conviction. She has been among the most passionate leaders of the Leave camp. Her claim that leaving the EU would give a “massive boost” to relations with India is ridiculed by her ministerial colleagues.

Read: Brexit vote: All you need to know about Britain’s referendum on leaving the EU

4) Michael Gove: Like Johnson, Gove has been Cameron’s close friend and associate. A leading spokesperson of the Leave camp, he took on Cameron and publicly rubbished the prime minister’s statements during the campaign. He led the camp’s blunt refutation of opinion of many independent experts who advised remaining in the EU. Gove compared them to Nazis who smeared Albert Einstein. Gove wants to “reflect” on his position in the cabinet if the vote is to remain in the EU.

5) Jeremy Corbyn: Under fire for not making a strong enough pro-EU case during most of the campaign, the Labour leader finally addressed a major rally on the last day before the vote. He has major reservations about EU and wants it to be “dramatically” reformed so that it becomes more democratic. He did not participate in a live television debate with the Leave camp, but several of his party leaders sparred with Johnson and other Brexiteers, most notably London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Read: Brexit on paper: What the Brits are actually voting for

Other notables:

Remain: George Osborne, John Major, Tony Blair, Theresa May, Gordon Brown, Sajid Javid, David Beckham, Karan Bilimoria, Keith Vaz.

Leave: Iain Duncan-Smith, Chris Grayling, Bob Blackman, Liam Fox, Suella Fernandes, Rishi Sunak.

Full Coverage| Britain’s EU Referendum