The European Elections in the United Kingdom

The European Elections in the United Kingdom

Alexander Rowlatt May 2019

Against the backdrop of the ongoing process of withdrawing from the EU the pro-leave Brexit Party has topped the polls taking 31.7% of the vote and returning 29 MEPs to the European Parliament. Pro-leave groups are using the result as further justification that the UK should get on with leaving the EU and deliver Brexit even if this means exiting without a Withdrawal Agreement.

The strong showing by the Brexit Party has come partly at the expense of the traditional major political parties in the British system. Both the Labour Party and the governing Conservative Party lost seats, 10 and 16 respectively – suggesting that the Labour Party has been punished for failing to take a clear position on Brexit and the Conservatives for the infighting that has precipitated the resignation of the Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May. It is likely that the Conservatives losses will give further weight to the leadership campaigns of prominent Brexiteers including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, which is likely to increase the odds of the UK leaving without a deal.

However, the losses of the Labour and Conservative parties cannot be attributed solely to the performance of the Brexit Party with the centrist Liberal Democrats and the Greens both profiting at their expense, retuning 16 and 7 MEPs respectively. In fact remain supporting parties achieved a larger share of the vote than those in the leave column and it is likely that the calls for a second referendum on Brexit will increase in volume. Although with the Conservative Party in government the prospects of  referendum are small.

From an EU perspective the results, whilst disappointing in respect to the election of 29 vocal Brexit Party Eurosceptics, are probably a relief. The decline in the Labour Party’s representation within the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) means that its presence will have less of an impact on the balance of power between the largest political groups the S&D and the EPP. Although ALDE will be artificial strengthened by the 16 Liberal Democrats.