European Parliament elections will go ahead on May 23 after the lack of progress on passing Brexit, with polls expecting another anti-Conservative vote swing.
Ten MEP’s will be selected in the South East of England region to represent constituents in Brussels.
The elections are going ahead because a condition of the extension of Article 50 – to sort out a deal over Brexit – was that it would have to respect the EU and its Parliament. Because Parliament failed to reach an agreement before May 22, the UK must partake in the EU parliamentary elections because its citizens have the legal right to be represented.
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Polls have placed The Brexit Party, newly created under former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, as favourites, just above Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. The party, who said they will not release a manifesto during the campaign, will work to stop any deal between the two major parties. They want to push on with Brexit on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms without any withdrawal agreement. Its MEPs will not pay the £39bn financial settlement the government has agreed to pay to the EU to settle existing debts and future obligations.
Credit: Gage Skidmore (Flickr)
The former UKIP leader has told voters during rallies across the country: "This party is not here just to fight the European elections... this party is not just to express our anger - 23 May is the first step of the Brexit Party. We will change politics for good.”
Prime Minister Theresa May says there should be no referendum on the Brexit deal, and the party remains focused on implementing the decision to leave made in 2016. South East MEP, Daniel Hannan, reiterated: “Amid all the noise and posturing, someone has to get on with the unglamorous business of actually delivering Brexit. That is what battle-hardened Conservative MEPs will help do.”
Yesterday, the PM offered MPs a chance to vote on whether there should be a second EU referendum if they back her Withdrawal Bill. Ashford MP Damian Green, an ally, has conceded that the chances of getting the latest version of the deal through are slim.
"I know that the strong expectation is that the vote won't go through - it hasn't gone through three times and why should the second reading of the bill be any different from the meaningful votes we have had before but let's see what happens. There are a lot of Labour MPs who are spooked by Nigel Farage as there are Conservative MPs. In politics anything is possible but if you have to make a prediction and put your mortgage on it, you would say that the vote won't go through."
In an attempt to drum up support for Labour’s EU campaign, leader Jeremy Corbyn launched their party manifesto in Chatham and spoke to activists at the University of Kent’s Medway campus.
Credit: Kent Online
Despite claims that Labour’s position on Brexit hindered their performance in the recent council elections, losing 84 councillors and 6 councils, Corbyn dismissed the idea: “We’re not trying to win the votes of just leavers, or just remainers. Instead, we’re reaching out to everyone.” The MP for Islington North declared that “the real divide in our country is not how people voted in the EU referendum. The real divide is between the many and the few”.
The party opposes the PM's Brexit deal, and wish to remain in a permanent customs union. If the deal does not meet its terms, Labour will lobby the government to call a general election. If it cannot secure that, it backs the option of ‘people’s vote’.
The Liberal Democrats, who had a very successful set of council election results this month, winning 703 seats, are calling for a further referendum on Brexit. It manifesto states: "Every vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to stop Brexit."
Like Vince Cable’s Liberal Democrats, the Green Party are firmly planted in the ‘remain’ camp. The party has been buoyed by its successes in the recent council elections - picking up a string of seats, notably in Folkestone and Hythe. They have historically done well in European Union Elections, making its breakthrough two decades ago under the Closed Party List voting system (proportional representation).
Another pro-second referendum party is the newly formed Change UK, led by temporary leader Heidi Allen. The centrist party has had a mixed start to life after two of its candidates dropped out for allegedly racist comments. They have also failed to sign any pacts with any another parties.
Change UK’s primary candidate in the region is Richard Ashworth, notable for having been the Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, before leaving in 2018 after frustrations over the lack of progress made with Brexit.
University of Kent Chancellor, Gavin Esler, is also running as an MEP for the four-month-old outfit, in the Greater London area.
UKIP, like the Brexit Party, wants the UK to leave the EU, and would reject Article 50. Their manifesto reads: "[It’s Time to] stop asking the European Union how we can leave, and start telling them how we will leave…[We stand for] Brexit, and an independent democratic Britain governed under its own laws and by its own parliament and government."
Controversial YouTuber Sargon of Akkad, real name Carl Benjamin, who spoke at a Liberty Union event last November, is running as a MEP candidate for the South West of England.
Other parties running in the region include the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the European Union Party and several independents.
Data relased by YouGov shows support for the Tories in the region stands at 11% - the same as the Greens - behind the Liberal Democrats on 21% and the Brexit Party on 37%. Labour is placed fourth on just 10%. Change UK and UKIP meanwhile is unlikely to receive enough support to secure any with just 5% and 4% respectfully.
InQuire have conducted a mini-poll into how students would vote in the election, and found that Labour were most likely to win with the Brexit Party coming a close second.
Strikingly for the Conservatives, more readers responded that they would not vote rather than vote for their candidates.
At the last election, UKIP won the most seats (24) followed by Labour (20); Conservatives (19); Green (3) and the SNP (2). Turnout low at 35.6%.
Polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday May 23. Voters already registered to vote will have already be receiving polling cards. The results will be declared in line with other EU member states, and so it will not be announced until Sunday May 26.
The full list of South East candidates, by party, is as followed:
Leslie Groves Williams
Phelim Mac Cafferty
Troy De Leon
Belinda de Lucy
Socialist Party of Great Britain
UK European Union Party