Batley and Spen: Rejoin EU candidate to stand in Brexit voting constituency

By James Moules

A PARTY campaigning to restore Britain’s membership of the European Union is set for an electoral test in the leave voting constituency of Batley and Spen.

The Rejoin EU Party was founded in 2020, and has since contested the London mayoral election, London Assembly elections and the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

Leader Richard Hewison finished eighth out of 20 in the mayoral poll, while Chesham and Amersham by-election candidate Brendan Donnelly, a former Tory MEP, ended up in last place.

But while Greater London and Chesham and Amersham were both remain voting areas in the 2016 Brexit referendum, the Rejoin EU Party is now standing in the upcoming Batley and Spen by-election – a constituency that voted leave by about 60 per cent.

However, Andrew Smith, the party’s candidate in the by-election, told Redaction Report: “I’m not that keen on dividing areas into leave and remain constituencies. 

“In all constituencies there are both rejoiners and leavers. And whatever we voted in 2016, it doesn’t mean we have to continue to hold that view. 

“I’ve certainly met many people with Bregret and not many that claim they have got the Brexit that they were promised. I’ve been really delighted with the response to our message. Not from everyone, but there are a lot of people who are very sympathetic. 

“That won’t always convert into votes, because often people are keen not to let in a candidate that they fear. But there is no doubt that there is appeal amongst voters for a party that wants to Rejoin.”    

Smith does not come from a political background. He studied environmental sciences at university before going to work in the insurance and pensions industry.

He told Redaction Report that he got involved because he “was frustrated by Westminster politics,” adding, “The major parties appear to be so scarred by Brexit that they simply refuse to talk about it.”

The Batley and Spen by-election was called following the election of incumbent Tracy Brabin to the mayorship of West Yorkshire.

The election has drawn a wide field of candidates, with a total of 16 people standing for the seat. The constituency has been held by Labour since 1997, prior to which it had a Conservative incumbent.

A recent Survation poll suggested that the Conservatives could be on course to win the seat, polling at 47 per cent to Labour’s 41 per cent. George Galloway, standing for the Workers Party of Britain, scored just six per cent in the opinion poll and the Liberal Democrats three per cent.

Asked how he would stand out in such a large field, Smith told Redaction Report: Standing out is not that difficult. “The name does exactly what it says on the tin.  We don’t need to explain what the Rejoin EU Party is about. 

“However, we don’t have the budget of the major parties and so we can get lost in the noise. The most successful campaigning is done door to door, where, at least in Batley and Spen, I can say it has been really energising talking to like minded people. 

“If we had more people on the ground we could be making a huge impact.  We are growing, but it remains a big challenge.”

The Rejoin EU Party is a single issue party, and while it is yet to find electoral success, Smith stated that the party still aims push for a pro-EU agenda among established parties.

“We are hoping to change the political dialogue to move the established parties to start to advocate rejoining,” he said. “Much as UKIP did in the 2000s, we believe that a vote for us will send a message to Westminster and that it will hasten the time when the major political parties feel confident to advocate for rejoining.”

While the main focus of the Rejoin EU Party is in opposing Brexit, Smith also pointed to other local issues facing the constituency.

“I’ve had many issues raised with me from a declining town centre, to speeding traffic, from reduced tolerance since Brexit, to increased prices and lack of investment in the area,” he said.

“As I make clear, an MP does not have a budget and is just one voice amongst 600 in Westminster. Whoever is elected is unlikely to be able to bring about major changes to the area, whatever they may claim. 

“However, I do commit to be a hard working and caring MP who will fight for all the constituents of Batley. I do believe that rejoining the EU, with its increased wealth, high food standards, greater cooperation and greater influence presents a brighter future than any of the other parties promises.” 

The Batley and Spen by-election will be held on July 1, 2021.

Featured Image: J.M. Smith (Credit)

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