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UK’s ‘Protest’ Election Looks Pro-Brexit

Central and Eastern European nationals in the UK hoping for a pro-EU or “soft Brexit” outcome are likely to be disappointed. by Victoria Roberts 23 May 2019

With UK parties in favor of some form of Brexit set to take a clear majority in European Parliament (EP) elections today, the UK parliament has still not passed a legal framework protecting EU citizens in the UK after Brexit – including some 1.9 million EU citizens born in Central and Eastern Europe – and the EP results could make the indecision worse.


Although the hardline euroskeptic Brexit Party was only launched in mid-April, and has no representation in the UK parliament, it looks likely to be the biggest UK party in the EP elections, scoring 37 percent according to a YouGov poll on 22 May. This was up from 35 percent last week, commented the polling organization, noting that the Brexit Party had leaped to 15 percent of the intended EP vote immediately after it was founded.


The poll covered Great Britain, which is comprised of England, Scotland, and Wales. Not included was Northern Ireland, which accounts for just 3 out of the 73 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) currently allocated to the UK.


The ruling Conservative Party – which currently forms a minority government – would pick up just 7 percent of the EP vote, down from 10 percent last week, according to the poll. The party’s official policy is to “deliver Brexit,” but there are severe splits within the party, as well as differences with its coalition partner, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.


The biggest UK parliamentary opposition party, Labour, would be the choice of 13 percent of voters in this European election, down from 15 percent last week. Although there are divisions within the Labour Party, the official current policy is a “soft Brexit.”


Electoral leaflet of the Labor Party


Meanwhile, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) – also hardline and euroskeptic, like its former leader Nigel Farage, who now heads the Brexit Party – would poll 3 percent, bringing the total pro-Brexit vote to 60 percent.


On the explicitly pro-EU side, the Liberal Democrats (LibDem) now stand at 19 percent of the intended vote – up from 16 percent last week. Meanwhile, the Green Party will likely take 12 percent – up from 10 percent.


The new grouping Change UK (CHUK) has lost some support, at 4 percent of the intended vote, down from 5 percent last week.


Reflecting the importance of the 922,000 Poles in the UK, as of 2017, CHUK is fielding a UK-born Polish politician, economist, and academic as a candidate for MEP in London. Campaigning earlier this week, Jan Vincent-Rostowski tweeted: “Not only Poles are concerned! All Europeans in London should be aware how #brexit will spoil their everyday existence!” However, in a voting tool based on the results of a separate opinion poll for pro-EU campaigning organizations Best for Britain and Hope Not Hate, he and CHUK seem unlikely to win a London seat.


Electoral leaflet of the Green Party


National parties Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru (in Wales) were steady, at 3 and 1 percent respectively. “Other” parties totaled 2 percent, said YouGov.


Could EP Elections Finish Breaking the UK Parliament?


Although no seats in the UK parliament are at stake today, the EP election is widely being seen as a proxy or protest vote on national politics, and could further impair the national parliament’s ability to pass laws about the status of EU nationals in the UK after Brexit.


The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU by Prime Minister Theresa May, which contained such provisions, has been rejected by parliament multiple times. The Conservatives and Labour had been discussing co-operation on passing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, but those talks collapsed, and the bill looks unlikely to go through parliament.


Commenting on the disunity, even if May were to resign immediately as prime minister, “this (UK) Parliament doesn’t look like it can resolve Brexit, which means that someone is either going to have to accept a Brexit outcome they don’t want or we are going to have another election,” Stephen Bush, political editor of left-wing magazine The New Statesman, told the BBC radio program “Today.”


Electoral leaflet of UKIP


Bush did not comment on the possibility of a no-deal Brexit – the UK leaving without any agreement – on 31 October or before, but in a separate poll, released on 21 May, YouGov found that “A majority of Britons (55 percent) believe that the Brexit Party performing well on 23 May would have a great/moderate impact on the Brexit process.”


As of 2017, some 1.44 million of the UK’s population of 66 million were born in the “EU-8” – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia – and a further 390,000 were born in Romania and 84,000 in Bulgaria, according to Migration Watch, using Office of National Statistics (ONS) data. The Croatia-born population of the UK – Croatia joined the EU in 2013 – is grouped together with Malta and Cyprus as “EU Other.”


Updated information about the population of CEE nationals in the UK will be published in a few days, when the ONS releases its Migration Statistics Quarterly Report, for migration patterns in the year ending December 2018. 


Elections will be held across the EU between 23 and 26 May (23 May in the UK), and the EP’s 9th term will start on 2 July.

Victoria Roberts is a TOL contributing editor.
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