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Brexplainer: How are the British parties shaping up for the controversial EU elections?

There’s a small chance they won’t actually take part, but this is getting more and more unlikely.

Brexit Theresa May holds a news conference in Brussels. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

IT’S LOOKING MORE and more likely that the UK will vote in European elections along with the rest of the EU. 

While Brexit has been delayed twice and given a flexible deadline, there was no flexibility over whether this would happen. 

If the UK is still a member of the EU when the bloc votes between 23 and 26 May, it needs to hold MEP elections to prevent citizens from being disenfranchised.

In reality this means that EU elections across Britain and Northern Ireland are coming next month unless Prime Minister Theresa May gets a Withdrawal Deal through parliament.  

The slim chance of this happening has meant parties are preparing to fight elections, some more enthusiastically than others. 

So what is the state of play?

Conservatives

The Tories must feel like an election is the last thing the party needs right now.

Leader and Prime Minister Theresa May has previously said that she doesn’t think the elections should be held, but she is pretty powerless to stop it if she can’t get a deal through parliament before 22 May.

The party seems more concerned with fighting amongst itself rather than fighting elections but it would have to run candidates regardless. 

The Tories have asked would-be candidates to express an interest in running before nominations close today but recent polling of Conservative members may temper any interest. 

The website Conservative Home conducted a survey which found that more than three out of five party members were planning on voting for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party rather than the Tories. 

Perhaps even more striking was a poll in the Mail on Sunday which showed that 40% of Conservative councillors were planning on ditching their own party to vote for Farage’s   

Conservative Home wrote that members were full of “sheer anger with the postponement of Brexit” and are feeling rebellious as a result. 

It shows that just as the Conservative MPs are split over the best course forward on Brexit, grassroots members are as well.  

The party is split between those who want to back May’s way forward and those who favour a harder or no-deal Brexit. Something which may play into Farage’s hands. 

Labour

Labour may benefit from a fractured Conservative vote in the European elections, it’s coming a close second to the Brexit Party polls, but they are also facing internal strife and a battle for votes from various sides. 

The party’s position on Brexit is that the result of the referendum is to be respected but that a no-deal exit must be avoided. 

The party is to set out its stall in a EU elections manifesto next week that will give a better idea of where it stands. 

Ahead of that though, deputy leader Tom Watson ramped up the stakes on Sunday by writing that the manifesto should include a “confirmatory referendum on any deal”

This question is at the heart of Labour’s debate over Brexit, with many members being of this view but others pointing to the fact that 61% of Labour MPs are from Leave-voting constituencies.

This fact, and a history of Euroscepticism, has weighed heavily on Jeremy Corbyn’s focus on winning a general election and not another referendum.  

It’s for this reason that Corbyn’s focus may be as much on local elections on 2 May as the European ones. 

Brexit Party

While the messages of the two main parties could be criticised as being somewhat muddled, Farage’s new vehicle benefits from greater clarity and a name that is instantly recognisable. 

The party is seeking to make the ballot a one issue vote and to provide a home for Brexit voters of all hues. 

Farage’s agitation to remove the UK from the EU was conducted while an MEP himself and he’s looking to use this route again. 

The former UKIP leader launched the party earlier this month with Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of leading Tory eurosceptic Jacob, as one of its candidates.

Yesterday, the Brexit Party announced five more candidates, including Claire Fox, a left-wing TV pundit and Farage said his party will be going after Labour votes “in a very big way”.

Change UK

Source: Guardian News/YouTube

The party formerly known as the Independent Group, but which still has the Independent Group in its logo, launched its campaign yesterday.

The party is running 70 candidates and revealed that Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris, and former BBC journalist Gavin Esler are among them. 

The party was formed by breakaway MPs from Labour and the Conservatives and interim party leader Heidi Allen said yesterday: “We are not the rebel alliance, we are the Remain alliance.”

The party says it received 3,700 applications to run as candidates and Allen said these were whittled down by people in “Tigger towers”, ‘Tigger’ being a nickname party members have given themselves.  

More Remainers

The Liberal Democrats won just one seat in the last European elections, down from 11 in 2009. The party will be hoping its staunch support of a second referendum will help them return to the figure of a decade ago.

The Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru are also all in favour of a second referendum and collectively their votes add up to a significant bloc.

The Liberal Democrats said they wanted to use the PR-STV system to engage in a Remain-voting pact with Change UK but that this offer was rejected.

Much to the annoyance of Remain advocates.

- With reporting by © – AFP 2019

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Rónán Duffy

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