'They stole our patriotism': Gavin Esler launches political career with jibe at Nigel Farage

Rival start-up parties challenge the mainstream amid Brexit deadlock

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 23: Rachel Johnson, Gavin Esler and Andrea Cooper at the launch of The Independent Group European election campaign at We The Curious on April 23, 2019 in Bristol, England. With a high probability that Britain will take part in the European Union elections due to the Brexit deadline extended up to October 31, 2019, The Independent Group has announced that Rachel Johnson and Gavin Esler will stand as candidates for the anti-Brexit party. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
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Two newly formed British political parties on opposing sides of the Brexit spectrum have announced their candidates to contest the European Parliament elections.

The National columnist Gavin Esler is standing as a candidate in London for the pro-EU Change UK party, which was formed in February by breakaway MPs from the ruling Conservative and opposition Labour parties.

Esler, a veteran journalist, said he had never been a member of a political party before but felt compelled to fight for a second referendum.

"I've never been seriously worried about the future of our country but I am now," he said.

"Our political system is a worldwide joke. They are laughing at us, not with us."

Esler criticised Brexiteers Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg as "pretend men of the people" and that "they stole our patriotism – and I want it back".

He also described them as the "posers of Brexit" and said they were "selling the same old snake oil".

Another notable candidate standing on the Change UK ticket is Rachel Johnson, sister of hardline Brexiteer and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Ms Johnson, who campaigned for Remain during the 2016 referendum, was a member of the Conservatives but left in protest against the party’s Brexit policy.

Heidi Allen, leader of Change UK, which was formerly known as the Independent Group, said at a launch event in Bristol on Tuesday that the party was “the Remain alliance”.

“If you’re fed up with our broken politics, join us,” Ms Allen said.

Meanwhile in London, the Brexit Party, led by former UKIP leader Mr Farage, announced a former Communist as one of its candidates.

Claire Fox, a radio personality, claimed she would appeal to many Labour voters who support leaving the EU.

“I’ve spent my life fighting for left-wing causes, so I can tell you no one is more surprised than me to be standing as a candidate for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party,” Ms Fox said on Tuesday.

“To be honest, Nigel and I are unlikely to agree on a range of issues but on the key question of implementing Brexit, no ifs, no buts, on the crucial issue of honouring democracy, Nigel and I agree wholeheartedly."

Former soldier James Glancy and charity chief executive Matthew Patten were also named as Brexit Party candidates.

Since its launch this month, the Brexit Party is leading other parties, recent polling showed.

The elections are due to take place on May 23.

The EU has said the UK will not take part if a Brexit deal has been passed before that time.

On Tuesday, MPs returned from parliamentary recess to restart Brexit talks.

The Labour Party accused British Prime Minister Theresa May of failing to offer substantive changes to her Brexit deal in cross-party talks.

“We’ll continue putting our case but quite honestly there’s got to be change in the government’s approach," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

"They cannot keep on regurgitating what has already been emphatically rejected three times by Parliament. There’s got to be a change."

Mr Corbyn said that Parliament now had "a window of opportunity" to bring about that change.

But a spokesman for Downing Street said talks had "been difficult in some areas", including trying to find agreement on a time for the UK's departure from the EU.