The UK Independence Party scored an expected yet resounding victory in the European Parliament elections while the Liberal Democrats faced electoral wipeout, after first results were announced early Monday morning (26 May).
At just before 1am, UKIP had 29.36% of the vote, a rise of 12.23% from the 2009 elections. That could see them take 12 seats, five more than previously. Labour was second with 24.47%, a rise of 8.72%, which translated to three more seats, taking their total to eight. One of those seats was taken from European Conservatives and Reformists group Chairman and Tory Martin Callanan (read more here).
The Conservatives dropped three seats to nine, winning 23.37% of the vote. The pro-European Liberal Democrats are down to 6.9% and increasingly look like they will be beaten into into fourth place by the Greens, who have 7.52% of the vote (more here). Turnout rose by 1.3% to 36% across the UK.
In the 2009 elections UKIP netted 16.5% of the vote, giving them 13 seats. They were second to the Conservatives who had 27.73%. The Tories, part of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, took 25 seats.
UKIP’s victory will certainly have repercussion in British politics although its impact on European politics is less immediately clear, as leader Nigel Farage admitted after exit polls last night.
“A party seen to be an insurgent party has topped the polls in a national election. It’s going to make a very big difference in national politics,” he said.
Farage said the eurozone crisis and the enlargement of the EU to former Soviet countries combined with the extension of free movement of citizens to those nations were now seen as “big mistakes” by voters across Europe.
The head of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group added, “I don’t want just Britain to leave the EU, I want Europe to leave the EU.”
He added that if there was a chance to block the appointment of a European Commission president, he would try to so.
“If there is a wide enough alliance and the opportunity to block appointment of an outright raving federalists, as most of candidates are, then yes,” he said.
UKIP’s result, which included its first ever Scottish seat, was one of a number of victories for Eurosceptic parties. The Danish People’s Party, the biggest Eurosceptics, polled 26.7% of the vote, winning four seats.
France’s extremist and Eurosceptic Front National provided the most shocking result of the night, with exit polls showing them take a historic 25% of the vote. The FN is now France’s leading European party.
UKIP’s euro election triumph comes hot on the heels of their unprecedented success in the UK local elections. The Eurosceptic party won 160 council seats in local elections on Thursday, which prompted Farage to boast, “The UKIP fox is in the Westminster henhouse.”
It has been reported that UKIP have drawn up a list of 20 national parliamentary seats to target in next year’s general election.
Such a clear display of support for a party campaigning for Britain to leave the EU will heap added pressure on the more traditional parties to make pledges over a future referendum.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has said there will be an in/out referendum by 2017. The Liberal-Democrats have said they want a referendum but only in the case of treaty change. The Greens also support a referendum but will campaign for the UK to stay in the EU.
Labour has been coy on the issue, recently saying a referendum would be unlikely if they won the general election.
The eurozone debt crisis kindled an anti-European mood in Britain and emboldened politicians to talk of clawing back powers from Brussels, or even leaving the bloc altogether.
Eurosceptics, such as the UK Independence Party, see the EU as an oppressive, wasteful superstate that threatens Britain's sovereignty, want a referendum on whether to stay in the EU.
2015: UK general elections