I hope this makes sense but as I’ve got a cold so my thinking isn’t as clear as it should be (I’ll let you decide whether my thinking as ever been that clear!) So we are at start of yet another Brexit/European Union (EU) summit. If nothing is decided then Britain will leave the EU on Friday night. As this is an outcome that neither the British government nor the EU wants then it reasonable to assume that it may well not happen (note the caution as it would be wrong to assume anything when it comes to Brexit.) This doesn’t mean that there will not be a whole lot of histrionics at the summit but the real question that the EU has to address is are they willing to throw the Republic of Ireland under a bus? If you believe the answer is yes then there is a possibility of a no deal on Friday – if not then ignore the good cop/bad cop nonsense and accept that the will be an extension of whatever length. I personally think that there will be a year long extension perhaps even two. This would stop Brexit from dominating the EU agenda in the way that it does now and be relegated to a side issue. It will also allow time for the repeal article 50/second referendum campaign to start to really get into gear. This is where the forthcoming European elections start to become really important.
Unlike UK wide elections (the devolved governments have a different system) the European elections are proportional in nature. This means that the final result will better represent the overall voting rather than the winner takes all first past the post system of all other national votes in the UK. It also is the one vote in the electoral cycle that is all about the EU and given the charged nature of British politics at the moment the EU elections, (which have always been viewed as a bit of a joke) will suddenly be treated far more seriously than before.
What this means is that this is closest thing to a second referendum as the only question will be about Remain or Leave and so we’ll finally be able to gauge the real breakdown of the remain/leave split – well sort of. If openly remain parties such as the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the newly formed Change UK run on a remain platform then it will be reasonably easy to see what support there is in the country as a whole for remain. The complication in all this is Labour. Whilst the membership is overwhelmingly pro EU many of the areas they represent are not and so what they would run on would be interesting. I suspect it will be a pro(ish) EU platform.
So what of the leave side? The Conservatives are going to be saddled with being the Brexit party whether they like it or not. How they would campaign is impossible to say as the party is so split it is hard to see what they platform would be at all. On top of this they will be seen as the governing party that has made such a pig’s breakfast of the whole thing and so are likely to get a kicking because of that. Where the disgruntled leave vote goes beyond the Conservatives is another question entirely. UKIP would be the obvious choice but whether they are in any fit state to put up candidates is another question. Nigel Farage might try to get on the ballot but it is far from clear whether this will be allowed. There might be some other fringe right wing groups but there is no real sign of anything organsied and frankly it is too late for anything to come together. Contrary to many of the doomsayers there is no populist alternatives in Britain compared to say the AfD in Germany or the League in Italy.
You will note that the one part of the United Kingdom that I haven’t mentioned is Northern Ireland. Just how any European Elections is used to give the DUP a good kicking is a fascinating question. However, as they appear to have a No Surrender attitude it is unlikely to change their approach. Perhaps the most interesting thing could be alignment of the SDLP and Fianna Fáil and how that works against Sinn Fein.
More than most elections turnout will be vitally important. At the moment it a reasonable bet that the remain voters are the more motivated to vote – huge march in London the other week and the 6m signatures to the revoke article 50 petition are clear indicators of that (Although it is reasonable to assume that they probably represented the same group of people.) If there is a large turn out and there is generally a pro remain cast to the results then this really would ramp the pressure onto parliament. (Again an awful lot of Ifs.)
Whatever the outcome of this election, should they be held, it probably is a big roadblock for any Conservative rump/Labour deal at the moment as many Labour MPs will see the opportunity I have outlined above. If that is the case then why would they want to help the Conservatives out of a Brexit mess of their own making? Should these fail and we do hold the elections then the one thing is sure – the result won’t make things any easier.
Of course the irony of all this is that much of this is the hard Brexiteers making, aided and abetted by Theresa May. If they hadn’t been so determined to leave without a deal, which many of them weren’t during the referendum, then we could already have left the EU on the 29th March 2019. It won’t have been pretty but it would have given them most of what they had always dreamed of. Instead they are marching the country into a very uncertain future which could well result in Britain remaining within the EU. Now that really does take a special kind of political talent which the European Research Group seem to have in abundance.
That is it I’m off to curl up with a mug of Lemsip, bing watch Game of Thrones to prepare for the next and final season which when it is aired on the early hours of Monday morning we may or may not be still members of the European Union.
Winter is here or is it?