We need to talk about the European Parliament elections…
Amidst the storms of Brexit, there has not been enough discussion of the European Parliament elections. The EU has made it clear that unless the Withdrawal Agreement is signed by 12 April, any extension will require the UK to participate in the European Parliament elections.
The indicative vote mechanism is unlikely to come to an immediate solution. One unlikely possibility is that a wobbly coalition between the Tories and Labour could cobble together a softer Brexit by tinkering with the Political Declaration and passing May’s deal on that basis. Another (less likely still) is that the indicative votes process will bring the ERG and DUP into line to vote for May’s deal. Another frightening possibility is No Deal but the House of Commons has shown that it is against that. Perhaps least likely of all, the House of Commons might follow the advice of the petitioners and Revoke Article 50.
All other scenarios require a long extension and the UK participating in European Parliament elections. To my mind, this is now the overwhelmingly likely outcome.
So, all political parties will have to fight European Elections. And those European Parliament elections will end up being a proxy for a second referendum. Our future relationship with the EU will be the only issue that counts. Political parties also need to be aware that recent polling has demonstrated that people are now identifying more strongly as Remain or Leave voters than they with political parties,
Personally, I am a Liberal Democrat but, in that context, I think that fighting purely as Liberal Democrats would be a mistake. Sure, that we might be able to get a few more MEPs than our current sole representative but it wouldn’t have an impact. The same logic applies to Greens, the new Independent Group and, in Scotland and Wales, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.
It might be said that these are elections on proportional representation so that all standing separately would collect the same number of seats. There are two problems with this:
1. It is a regional list systems so parties polling in single figures will inevitably find that they miss out entirely in some regions (this is why the Lib Dems currently have only 1 MEP and the Greens 3 MEPs). As a result, the result will not be fully reflective of pro-EU votes.
2. Perception will be extremely important. A unified pro-Remain list could easily top the poll which would have so much more impact than a few extra MEPs for Lib Dems, TIG and Green parties.
Most importantly, a unified list would allow Labour and Conservative voters who support remaining in the EU to vote for that belief without casting a vote directly for a rival party. It would also be an incredibly powerful message to the rest of Europe.
Time is short and party tribalism is obviously going to get in the way. Only a groundswell of opinion would allow this to happen so if you agree, please spread the word.