A breakdown of last night’s results, which show a big win for the Brexit Party
Political turmoil is pretty much the new norm in Britain, what with Brexit – an obvious shambles that has inspired some of the biggest protests of the century – and, just last week, Theresa May stepping down as prime minister.
Now, adding to this upheaval are last nights EU elections, with UK voters sidestepping major parties to drastically change how we’ll be represented in the union. The biggest gains have been made by the newly-formed Brexit Party and the Lib Dems, with the Conservatives and Labour both suffering losses.
But what exactly does this mean for our place within the EU (which, by the way, only exists because Brexit was pushed back to October 31)? MEPs vote on laws surrounding climate change, workers’ rights, and immigration among others, so it’s definitely worth unpacking.
So, here’s a deep dive into the results and what they might mean.
THE BREXIT PARTY WON WITH A HARD BREXIT AGENDA
Nigel Farage – the former Ukip leader, poster boy for ditching the EU, and confirmed liar – was announced (March 22) as the leader of the Brexit Party, formed in early 2019. Similar to Ukip, Farage’s new party ran with pretty much a single policy: to take Britain out of the EU as soon as possible, no matter what disastrous consequences might follow.
Overnight, the Brexit Party gained 28 seats in the EU elections, winning with a third of the overall vote. They also topped every region in England and Wales, barring London (which was to be expected, since the city voted to remain back in 2016). “Never before in British politics has a new party launched just six weeks ago topped the polls in a national election,” Farage said, and technically he’s not wrong. All in all, it looks like a scary swing towards political extremes in what Boris Johnson has called a “crushing rebuke” to the failures of the current government.
Whatever the future holds, it is terrifying that such a large chunk of the British populace can vote for a party with one single liar as its leader and absolutely no policies other than xenophobia.— Priyamvada Gopal (@PriyamvadaGopal) May 27, 2019
THE LIB DEMS ALSO MADE A COMEBACK
The Lib Dems have never really recovered from their coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives following the 2010 general elections, which saw them make U-turns on key policies such as tuition fees and become complicit in the austerity measures that arguably made Brexit possible in the first place. It might be a bit of a surprise, then, that the pro-remain party now led by Vince Cable had a resurgence in the weekend’s EU elections, gaining 14 seats to come second on the results table. Then again, they were really the only party to have a clear anti-Brexit message. Where Labour, for example, tiptoed around the issue, trying to appease voters on both sides, the Lib Dems won votes by saying it outright: they don’t want to leave the EU.
mad that people are praising the Lib Dems for being pro-Remain, a party who sold out to the Tories and meekly conspired to allow the division and desperation in this country to flourish.— Thomas Gorton (@AngstromHoot) May 26, 2019
The Lib Dems said something very simple in a sassy way very loudly. Why am I seeing smart people pretending not to understand the world we live in?— Isaac Lock (@isaacjlock) May 26, 2019
Besides running with that “clear, honest, unambiguous message” that Cable attributed their success to, though, the Lib Dems also undoubtedly benefited – like the Brexit Party – from voters’ general anger towards Labour and the Tories.
SO WHAT’S NEXT FOR LABOUR?
It’s easy to see Labour’s loss of eight seats in the election – taking them down to 10 – as a kind of punishment for their treatment of Brexit, which many criticised as too ambiguous, with Jeremy Corbyn not seeming to come out in strong support of the Leave or Remain campaigns. Corbyn has promised to consider the results of this election and discuss them within the party. “After three years of Tory failure to deliver a Brexit that works for the whole country, these elections became a proxy second referendum,” he says. “Over the coming days we will have conversations across our party and movement, and reflect on these results on both sides of the Brexit divide.”
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, has also sent a strong message about Labour’s Brexit approach, calling for a second referendum campaign. “We went into an election where the most important issue was what was our view on leaving the EU, and we were not clear about it,” she says. “We should have said quite simply that any deal that comes out of this government should be put to a confirmatory referendum, and that remain should be on the ballot paper, and that Labour would campaign to remain.”
In the future, then, it looks like Labour could be taking a harder line on Brexit, looking to gain the support of the many voters that would still like to see 2016’s Brexit decision reversed.
TOMMY ROBINSON WAS LEFT HUMILIATED
One of the best bits of news from the EU elections was about Tommy Robinson’s performance. Yes, the EDL founder and anti-Islam activist – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – won just 2.2% of the vote in North West England. Turns out he’s not exactly going to “walk into Brussels like Connor McGregor” as he expected (lol). In fact, The Guardian reports that Robinson claimed the establishment had conspired against him and dipped out of the Manchester election count early. He probably wasn’t just popping out for a milkshake.
SURPRISE, THE COUNTRY IS STILL DIVIDED OVER BREXIT
Obviously a win for the Brexit party suggests there’s still a fair amount of support in the UK for immediately severing all ties with the EU (Farage ran his campaign on an unambiguously no-deal platform). If that sounds like a terrible prospect, it’s probably because it is.
As Wolfgang Tillmans has pointed out on Instagram, though, support for “Brexit no matter what the cost” definitely isn’t the whole story. In fact, the overall pro-remain vote – including the Lib Dems, the Greens, the SNP, Change UK, and Plaid Cymru – adds up to 40.3%, while votes for “hard Brexit” parties – that’s the Brexit Party and Ukip – only add up to 34.9%.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF EUROPE?
If and when Britain leaves the EU, the political makeup of the union is still going to affect the country (not to mention the hundreds of millions that will still be members). Populist leaders have already shown the ability to spread their influence, plaguelike, across land and sea. So what’s going on in the rest of the elections? Well, as in the UK, a drop in support has been reported by the two biggest blocs in the EU, the centre-right European People’s Party and the centre-left Social Democrats (not helped by Labour’s losses). This support has partly been supplanted by populist gains – including those of the Brexit Party and Germany’s right-wing Alternative for Germany party – but again Liberal Democrats have seen the biggest raise, with the Greens/European Free Alliance group also gaining an estimated 20 seats.
Tillmans also points out that there’s good news for the democratic process as a whole, with voter turnout up 8% across Europe. Maybe, seeing the state of Britain, others have started to see that the EU is something worth protecting.