2019 European Parliament election in the United Kingdom
2019 European Parliament election in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom's component of the 2019 European Parliament election is due to be held on Thursday 23 May 2019. Initially, the elections were not planned as the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union (following the 2016 referendum) was set for 29 March 2019. However, the British government requested a delay and the European Council approved it following a European summit on 11 April.
While it is the default position in UK and EU law for the election to take place, the UK Government is continuing attempts to avoid participation by agreeing withdrawal before 23 May.
Otherwise, it will be the ninth time the United Kingdom elects MEPs to the European Parliament (fourth for Gibraltar). Candidate nominations must be submitted by 4pm on 24 April 2019, and voter registration must be completed by 7 May 2019.
It is uncertain for how long, if at all, British MEPs will sit before the withdrawal process is complete, as the extension agreement provides for early termination as soon as the withdrawal agreement is ratified. The UK's ongoing withdrawal from the European Union is expected to be the central issue of the election campaign.
Expected cancellation and contingency planning
The United Kingdom invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union on 29 March 2017 following a referendum on 23 June 2016 to leave the European Union. As a result, the country was due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, before the European Parliament elections took place. Nonetheless, on 27 May 2018, it was reported that the UK's Electoral Commission had set aside £829,000 for its "activities relating to a European Parliamentary election in 2019". The Commission described the money as a "precautionary measure, so that we have the necessary funds to deliver our functions at a European Parliamentary election, in the unlikely event that they do go ahead".
The European Parliament resolution of 7 February 2018 on the composition of the European Parliament (2017/2054(INL) – 2017/0900(NLE)) included these clauses:
H7 refers to the re-allocation of some UK seats following the UK withdrawal from the EU, stating: "Underlines that the seats to be vacated by the United Kingdom upon its withdrawal from the European Union will facilitate the adoption of a new allocation of seats in Parliament, which will implement the principle of degressive proportionality; further underlines that the new allocation proposed would allow for a reduction in the size of Parliament; notes that the use of only a fraction of the seats vacated by the United Kingdom is sufficient to ensure no loss of seats for any Member State". H6 has a contingency for the situation that the UK does not leave the EU before the 2019 election, stating that "in case the above mentioned legal situation concerning the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union changes, the allocation of seats applied during the 2014–2019 parliamentary term should apply until the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union becomes legally effective". The European Council also drew up contingency plans allowing the UK to retain its MEPs should Brexit be postponed:
However, in the event that the United Kingdom is still a Member State of the Union at the beginning of the 2019-2024 parliamentary term, the number of representatives in the European Parliament per Member State taking up office shall be the one provided for in Article 3 of the European Council Decision 2013/312/EU until the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union becomes legally effective. Official preparations begin After Brexit was delayed beyond its initial planned date of 29 March 2019, the possibility of a sufficiently long delay so as to require the elections to take place became more apparent. The period for withdrawal under Article 50 was first extended, with the unanimous approval of the European Council, until 12 April 2019 — the deadline for informing the EU of the intention to hold elections. By early April, the House of Commons had voted again to extend the withdrawal period, and a deadline of 31 October 2019 was agreed between the UK and the Council. The UK Government therefore ordered preparations for the election.
Nevertheless, ratification of a withdrawal agreement by the UK and European parliaments would still permit the UK to leave before October. If this occurs before 23 May, the United Kingdom and Gibraltar will not take part in the 2019 European Parliament elections scheduled for May 2019.
The deadline for candidate nominations is 25 April 2019
The two major UK political parties see the prospect of elections for the European Parliament (while the UK is due to leave the European Union) as problematic, with both keen to avoid this scenario. The backdrop of ongoing debate around Brexit is expected to be very significant in how people vote, with the election expected to be seen by some as a "proxy referendum" on whether the country should leave the EU or not. Commentators suggest that the vote share for the two biggest UK parties, the Conservatives and Labour, could fall, with voters moving towards a number of pro-Leave or pro-Remain parties. The election is seen as being significant for two new parties, the Brexit Party (supporting Brexit) and Change UK - The Independent Group (supporting the UK remaining in the EU).
Following the prospect of a delay to Brexit, Conservative Party MEPs were asked by their delegation leader if they would consider standing again if there were a delay that would mean the UK staying in the EU beyond the date of the next European Parliament election.
In April 2019, Labour said it had started its process for choosing candidates. 16 out of the 20 MEPs elected last time have applied to stand again.
The Brexit Party, with 12 current MEPs, are planning to run 70 candidates (the number of seats available in Great Britain) with leader Nigel Farage, himself a former UKIP leader, standing in the South East England region.
The Liberal Democrats announced their selected candidates for England and Wales on 17 April 2019 following party-wide voting. The Liberal Democrat's sole incumbent MEP, Catherine Bearder, was re-selected as the lead candidate for the South East, while former MEPs Chris Davies, Fiona Hall, Bill Newton Dunn and Phil Bennion were also selected as lead candidates for their respective regions. Other candidates include Dinesh Dhamija (entrepreneur and founder of online travel agency Ebookers) and Rabina Khan (former leader of the People's Alliance of Tower Hamlets) in London. They are also standing a full slate in Scotland.
Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru's sole MEP, has applied to be the party's lead candidate again.
Also standing are Our Nation, founded by another former UKIP leader, Henry Bolton.
Patrick O'Flynn, the Social Democratic Party's sole MEP, having been elected as a UKIP candidate, stated in April 2019 that the SDP will not be standing candidates at the election.
Northern Ireland has a different political context to Great Britain, with mostly different parties traditionally standing.
On 14 April 2019, Sinn Féin selected sitting MEP Martina Anderson as its candidate for the Northern Ireland constituency.
The Democratic Unionist Party have selected their sitting MEP Diane Dodds.
The Green Party of Northern Ireland are intending to stand a candidate.
In April 2019, Jane Morrice, co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition and a former deputy speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, announced that she would stand as an independent in the Northern Ireland constituency on a pro-Remain platform.
UKIP are standing on a platform of delivering Brexit. UKIP leader Gerard Batten has criticised the rival Brexit Party as having no policies.
Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party (and former UKIP) leader, said that there was "no difference between the Brexit party and UKIP in terms of policy, [but] in terms of personnel, there's a vast difference", criticising UKIP's connections to the far right. On 15 April 2019, three more sitting female UKIP MEPs defected to the Brexit Party, criticising UKIP's nomination of Carl Benjamin to run as MEP, instead of selecting them. In particular, Collins noted UKIP leader Gerard Batten's defence of Benjamin's "use of a non-rape threat as 'satire'" to be an especially compelling factor.
The Liberal Democrats are seeking the support of those who wish the UK to remain in the EU. Their leader, Vince Cable, had proposed standing joint candidates with the Greens and Change UK – The Independent Group on a common policy of seeking a second referendum on Brexit, but the other parties rejected the idea.
Change UK – The Independent Group see the elections as an important launchpad for their new party, seeking to turn the election into a "proxy referendum" on Brexit. On 16 April 2019, two former Conservative MEPs, who had left the party to sit as independents within the European People's Party grouping, joined Change UK.
The DUP are campaigning on sending a message to "get on with Brexit".
The Scottish Greens have focused their campaign on replacing Scotland's current Brexit Party MEP, David Coburn.
The Renew Party agreed to support Change UK – The Independent Group at the elections, and the latter are including candidates from Renew's approved list.