Pro-Remain parties will unite around a single candidate in an anti-Brexit pact in a bellwether by-election in Wales just days after the new Conservative prime minister is due to take office.
The by-election on 1 August in the Welsh seat of Brecon and Radnorshire, currently held by the Conservatives, was called after voters signed a recall petition against the incumbent MP, Chris Davies, who was convicted of submitting fake expenses documents earlier this year.
Davies is standing for the Conservatives, while Nigel Farage’s Brexit party will also stand a candidate. So, too, will Labour, whose leader Jeremy Corbyn continues to equivocate on whether to support a Brexit deal or a second referendum.
Pro-Remain forces failed to unite at May’s European elections, allowing the Brexit party to comfortably top the poll with 31%.
The by-election with a single candidate for the rebounding Remain camp is therefore seen as a test for a possible snap parliamentary election and comes barely a week after Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson takes over as prime minister and Conservative party leader.
Hunt and Johnson have both promised to take the UK out of the EU with a No Deal Brexit in October if they are unable to persuade the EU to renegotiate the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. The opposition parties have threatened to table a vote of no confidence in order to prevent the government from taking the UK out of the EU on No Deal terms.
Wales voted to leave the EU by a 53-47% margin in the June 2016 referendum.
The Liberal Democrats, who held the Welsh seat between 1997 and 2015, have been boosted by their strong second-place performance in the EU polls. The pro-Remain Plaid Cymru and the Green party have agreed to back the Liberal Democrat candidate Jane Dodds in the by-election in a bid to ensure that a pro-Remain candidate is elected.
Vince Cable, the outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that such electoral pacts “could happen much more widely” in the future but added there was “no possibility of an agreement with the Labour Party”.
A senior Labour party source told EURACTIV that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would soon publicly support a second referendum in all circumstances, but similar predictions have been made for close to a year
Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, described the Welsh pact as a “major step” and said that it was “the right thing to do”.
“We are facing one of the most significant decisions, as to whether we are going to be seemingly yanked out of the European Union even without a deal,” he added.
In a statement, the Green party said it wanted to “maximise the chances of the candidate most likely to beat the Tories and the Brexit Party”.
Defeat would increase the difficulties facing the Conservative government, which is currently only able to form a wafer-thin majority with the support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]