EU elections in the UK: Probably not a game-changer for the European Parliament

File photo. Nigel Farage, British Member of the European Parliament and former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) delivers his speech during the debate on UK?s withdrawal from the EU in Strasbourg, France, 13 March 2019. [Patrick Seeger/EPA/EFE]

The unexpected participation of the UK in the European elections is unlikely to impact dramatically on the overall result for the mainstream parties, according to the latest opinion polls.

The only serious impact of the UK vote will almost certainly be a steep increase in the number of vociferous brexiteers in the European Parliament.

73 MEPs will be elected on Thursday (23 May) in 9 constituencies in England, plus 1 each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

European elections were initially not planned in the UK because of the country’s decision to withdraw from the European Union following the 2016 referendum.

Brexit date was initially set for 29 March 2019 but the UK government conceded that European elections would have to take place after Prime Minister Theresa May failed to pass the country’s Withdrawal Agreement through parliament.

A major difference with national polls

In contrast with national elections, European elections in the UK usually fail to mobilise the electorate of the two big traditional parties.

Both Labour and the ruling Conservative Party are divided over Brexit and did not run a proper election campaign.

If “real” national elections were held today in the UK, the Labour party would win close to 40%, recent polls have shown. But in the European elections today, Labour is expected to win as little as 13% of votes, according to a YouGov survey published on Wednesday.

The same survey credits Farage’s Brexit Party with 37% of voting intentions in the European elections. In contrast, UKIP is credited with a mere 7.5% of voting intentions in “real” national elections.

Lib Dems expected to score big

Behind Farage’s Brexit Party, the anti-Brexit Lib Dems are the other political party that is expected to score much higher than it would have done in a normal national election.

YouGov places the Lib Dems second, at 19% of voting intentions. In a national election, they would only be credited with around 8% of voting intentions.

In a national election, the Conservatives would get around 23% of votes. But for the European elections, YouGov credits them with only 7% of voting intentions.

If those projections are confirmed, this means that the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament is unlikely to get a major boost from the UK elections.

The UK has 73 MEPs, and a 13% score for Labour would bring only 8 or 9 MEPs to the centre-left group, down from 24 in the current European Parliament.

The liberal ALDE group would however be strengthened by around 15 MEPs from the Lib Dems, up from 1 in the current Parliament.

In the outgoing European Parliament, Nigel Farage was part of a Eurosceptic group of 18 MEPs. Following the vote on Thursday, he would have as many as 27.

Until now Farage’s group had 14 MEPs from Italy’s 5-Star Movement, 6 French MEPs from Les Patriotes and Debout La France, 1 MEP from Germany’s AfD, 1 MEP from Poland’s Wolnosc (Freedom) party, and 1 MEP from the Czech ‘Party of Free Citizens’.

The next European Parliament is unlikely to reproduce the same political groups, with major Eurosceptic and anti-EU forces such as the Italian Lega or Marine Le Pen’s National Rally pushing to attract like-minded partners from other countries.

Although numerous, MEPs from Farage’s Brexit Party won’t be prized allies in the new Parliament, because if the UK leaves the Union, his deputies will also leave the European assembly.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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