The British electorate took part in the European Elections last Thursday.
Countries across Europe voted in the European Parliamentary Elections last week to decide their MEPs. The United Kingdom voted on Thursday and the results came through on Sunday evening.
As expected, The Brexit Party won the most seats with 29. The Liberal Democrats won 16 seats while Labour (10) and the Conservatives (four) suffered major losses. The remainder of the seats were shared by the Greens (seven), the Scottish National Party (three) and Plaid Cymru (one). The overall voter turnout of 36.9 per cent was not particularly surprising but it was up from 35.6 per cent in 2014.
But what did we learn from the results of the European Elections? We take a look at five observations from the UK’s votes…
Cracks in the two-party system
Both Labour and the Tories suffered dramatic losses. As a reflection of both parties’ weak handling of Brexit, the electorate turned their backs on Labour and the Conservatives.
The Conservative Party’s loss of 15 seats was one of the main talking points of this election. Theresa May resigned just before the vote on Thursday and the party did not even publish a manifesto ahead of the European Elections. With just four seats, the Tories were even outperformed by the Greens – a party generally considered to be minnows.
Labour’s ambiguous stance on Brexit did not help in the elections. But the party performed better than their Conservative rivals, dropping 10 seats from 20 to 10.
These results in the European Parliamentary Elections – shortly after Labour and the Conservatives struggled in the local elections – show that we could be about to see a seismic shift in this country’s long-established two-party system. The British public seems disillusioned with the two main parties, giving rise to fringe parties like the Lib Dems, Greens and the Brexit Party.
Lack of ‘remain alliance’
The Brexit Party won 13 more seats than its nearest rivals (the Lib Dems). And with over 5 million votes, it won nearly 2 million more than the second-place Lib Dems.
On first glance, it would seem clear that the UK electorate has spoken, urging the government to press ahead with Brexit. However, on closer examination, these results may be misleading.
While Brexiteers had one clear path to take in this proxy second referendum, Remain supporters did not. There was a lack of a ‘Remain Alliance’; too many pro-Remain parties were competing with each other.
Pro-Brexit parties were Brexit and UKIP, who won a combined 29 seats (all to Brexit). Pro-Remain parties (Lib Dems, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru) won a combined 27 seats.
Brexit and UKIP achieved a combined tally of just under 6 million votes, while the Remain parties achieved just over 6 million combined votes. Perhaps the Brexit-Remain divide would have been better tested if there was one single party campaigning for pro-Remain policies to compete against the Brexit Party.
UKIP is finished
In the 2014 European Elections, UKIP won 24 seats, four more than its nearest rivals. This reflected the growing push for a referendum on the UK’s EU membership (which, of course, happened in 2016).
Prior to the 2019 elections, many UKIP candidates defected to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. And, in turn, the Brexit Party has stolen the vast majority of UKIP voters.
With miserable figures of 554,463 votes and no seats, UKIP appears to be finished. Farage achieved his goal while he was the leader of the UKIP Party: earning an EU referendum and convincing the public to vote for Brexit.
But with figurehead Farage building his new army within the Brexit Party, UKIP’s days look numbered. The party’s popularity has suffered at the hands of its newly-formed rivals.
Change UK project fails to take off
In theory, Change UK (formerly known as The Independent Group) should have been the obvious alternative to the Brexit Party. Change UK was formed by 11 breakaway Labour and Conservative MPs, who abandoned allegiance to their respective parties and canvassed for Change UK’s pro-European policies.
Ahead of the European Elections, The Independent Group registered as an official political party and became Change UK. With Heidi Allen as interim leader and Chuka Ummuna as the spokesperson, Change UK had high hopes for May’s elections.
However, this project has failed to take off. Change UK’s results were disastrous with just 571,846 votes and no seats in the European Parliament. Change UK earned just 3.4 per cent of the public vote despite having big names like Gavin Esler and Rachel Johnson on their candidate list.
Change UK will now try to bounce back from this disappointing election. This venture is still in its early stages but early indications suggest that the Brexit Party are miles ahead of their antithetical rivals.
The UK is as divided as ever
The Brexit Party may have stolen the headlines and won 13 more seats than its nearest rivals. But the UK electorate remains divided in their results.
With clear pro-Brexit parties receiving just under 6 million votes and pro-European parties receiving just over 6 million votes, this illustrates the clear split in society caused by Brexit.
The two main parties, Labour and the Tories, who both remain unclear on Brexit, received under 4 million combined votes. The nation is split down the middle as Brexit rumbles on.