The UK will definitely hold European elections this month, after UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s deputy conceded that it would not be possible to get the legislation needed to formalise Brexit through Parliament in time.
“It is regrettably not going to be possible to finish that process before the date that is legally due for European parliamentary elections,” said Cabinet Office minister David Lidington on Tuesday (7 May).
“We very much hoped that we would be able to get our exit sorted and have the treaty concluded so that those elections did not have to take place. But legally, they do have to take place – unless our withdrawal has been given legal effect – so those will now go ahead,” Lidington added.
The announcement is not a surprise but rather another blow to May’s Conservative party that has been desperate to avoid having to hold the EU polls, which could see them struggle to obtain much more than 10% of the vote.
A survey by the ConservativeHome website published on Tuesday suggested that six out of ten party members will instead vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in the European elections. Only 22% of Tory activists plan to vote for their own party.
Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have launched their campaigns yet, and the Conservatives are unlikely to do so, although both parties have selected their respective slates of candidates.
Lidington’s admission also suggests that cross-party talks between May’s team and the Labour party will not bear fruit any time soon.
“Ideally, we’d like to be in the situation where those MEPs never have to take their seats at the European Parliament, certainly to get this done and dusted by the summer recess,” said Lidington.
May has spoken of the UK formally exiting the EU by 30 June in order to avoid UK MEPs taking their seats in the European Parliament.
Failure to get a Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons before mid-July when the UK’s parliamentary recess typically starts would leave a very tight window for lawmakers to pass a deal before the UK is formally due to leave on 31 October. UK lawmakers only return for a week in early September before the annual party conference season.
In Brussels, meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker lamented his decision to sit out the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign that saw Britons narrowly vote to leave the EU.
“It was a mistake not to intervene and not to interfere because we would have been the only ones to destroy the lies which were circulated,” Juncker told reporters on Tuesday.
Juncker added that it had been a mistake to “too listen carefully” to then Prime Minister David Cameron’s warning to stay out of the campaign.
[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski]