Conservatives in Northamptonshire say a pledge to give a quarter of a million people in the north of the county the chance to have their say on the European Union is not simply a response to UKIP success.
MPs Peter Bone (Wellingborough) and Philip Hollobone (Kettering) and Corby and East Northants candidate Tom Pursglove launched their unofficial EU referendum this afternoon (Friday, May 23).
The initiative was first announced last month, and ballot papers are being distributed to all households in all three constituencies over the coming weeks.
The vote is deliberately being held now the European Parliamentary election polls are shut, although before the results are announced. Opinion polls have indicated UKIP could win the British vote.
Political opponents have branded the exercise a stunt.
But Mr Hollobone rejected that as well as suggestions the mock referendum was a reaction to recent UKIP electoral success.
He said: “Peter Bone and myself in Parliament, ever since we were elected, have been campaigning on this.
“The important thing here is our membership of the EU. We all want the same thing – we all want people across the country to have a say.”
Mr Bone said: “We are launching this now before anyone knows the results of the European election.”
And Mr Pursglove added: “We announced this weeks ago, even before the European elections kicked off.
“When we are out knocking on doors people tell us they desperately want us to have a referendum. We haven’t had a vote on this since 1975.”
Meanwhile, Mr Bone has called for the Conservative leadership to make some sort of deal to avoid what he described as the splitting of the centre-right vote.
Among his suggestions was for some candidates to run on a joint ticket or for UKIP not to stand against overtly anti-EU Tories, such as in Kettering at the last election, when UKIP actively campaigned for Mr Hollobone. In return, Mr Bone said, the party’s leader Nigel Farage could be offered a seat in the House of Lords.