28th May 2019
By Alan Boyd-Hall, Head of Public Affairs - Grayling UK
The EU elections proved a night to forget for the two main political parties as the Conservatives and Labour were punished at the polls for their inability to break the Brexit deadlock.
The Conservatives finished in fifth place with only nine per cent of the vote – their worst national election result in nearly 200 years – while Labour’s inability to set out a coherent position on Brexit saw them lose ten MEPs and fail to secure more votes than the resurgent Liberal Democrats.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party were the clear winners of the EU Elections. The debutant party, formed only four months ago, secured 31.6 per cent of the vote and 29 newly elected MEPs – a record breaking feat and one that no doubt will be noticed in Brussels. But while their jubilant celebrations following a stunning piece of campaigning were enjoyed through to the early hours of the Bank Holiday morning, commentators were quick to point out the similarities between this result and the 27.5 per cent vote share won by UKIP in 2014 – which never translated into electing a single MP in Westminster.
It was also a good night for the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. The Liberal Democrats set out their stall as the party for remain with the clarity of their message seeming to succeed in appealing directly to pro-remain voters. They finished second securing 20.3 per cent of the vote and adding fifteen new MEPs to their previous roster of just one. Meanwhile, the Greens gained four new MEPs finishing ahead of the governing Tories in fourth place – a result that at any other political election would come as a shock.
As the dust settles, all parties are predictably spinning the results to suit their narrative but in reality, there were roughly equal votes for pro and anti-EU parties – highlighting just how deeply divided the public remains on Brexit. Furthermore, the elections do not change the fact that the UK remains scheduled to depart the EU on 31st October 2019 – with or without a deal (although many commentators still expect a further extension).
Nonetheless, the result does seem to have cemented concerns within the Labour Party that their current position on Brexit is untenable and could pose a significant risk to the Party at a general election. Labour are now moving to a clearer pro-second referendum position, with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell taking to Twitter following the disastrous results to say that “…we must unite our party & country by taking issue back to people in a public vote”. Jeremy Corbyn followed up in a note to MPs saying that Labour is “ready to support a public vote on any deal” in the absence of a General Election, although he has not detailed what the options would be or indeed what Labour would campaign for.
For the Conservatives, the results have acted as a platform for Party leadership hopefuls to set out their stall following the resignation of the Prime Minister Theresa May – whose decision to fall on her sword has cushioned the blow and allowed candidates to distance themselves from the result. However, it is likely that the results will only play into the hands of Brexiteer candidates who consider no-deal a viable option. They are expected to appeal to the Party with a clear message; namely that unless the UK leaves on the 31st October – with or without a deal – the results at the next general election will be devastating for the Conservatives on the basis that the Brexit Party would subsume the Conservative vote; something that Nigel Farage has already threatened.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the only way to stop a no-deal exit under a Brexiteer Conservative Prime Minister is for those MPs opposed to a no-deal to hold a vote of no confidence in the government which would then in all probability lead to a general election. Therefore, the likelihood of both a no-deal exit and a general election in the next five months have increased substantially.
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