Who’d have thought that in May 2019 – almost three years after the vote to leave the EU – we’d be voting in European Parliament elections? In the words of Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage, these are the elections that “weren’t supposed to happen” – but has anything gone as it was supposed to in this Brexit saga?
The result of Thursday’s vote will tell us two things: first and foremost, it will act as a litmus test to gauge whether or not public opinion on Brexit – Leave or Remain – has shifted since the 2016 vote; second, it will reveal the extent to which the public have “switched off” to the whole Brexit debate.
Granted, gauging public opinion in this manner is not an exact science, especially given the ambiguous nature of Labour’s attitude towards Brexit. (Does anyone really know whether they support Leave or Remain?) But the fact that there are at least two parties in there that are completely unequivocal with regard to where they stand on Brexit – the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems – should provide plenty of fodder for the analysts and anoraks who like to pour over this kind of thing. That is, of course, provided anyone turns up to vote…
The fact that we are now almost three years down the line and still appear to be stuck in no-man’s land must be a huge turn-off to the voting public, many of whom voted for the first time ever in the EU referendum. The inability – or unwillingness – of Parliament and the Government when it comes to honouring the outcome of the referendum has tainted British democracy in the eyes of many. Anecdotally, it is sad to hear people say that they will never vote again after having been “betrayed”.
For what it’s worth, the indications suggest that the Brexit Party is the frontrunner, with YouGov putting them on 35% of the vote. The pro-Remain Lib Dems are next on 16%. Interestingly, Nigel Farage’s party is polling higher than all the pro-Remain parties put together – an astonishing feat for a party that was formed only a month ago. Labour is on 15% and the poor old Tories are polling just 9%, which would be the worst outcome for the party in a national election since 1834.
Although our participation in this election is something of an absurdity – after all, as things stand, we are still set to leave the EU on 31st October – we can only hope that it will provide the necessary kick up the proverbial in order to break the deadlock.
It seems to be clear to everyone bar the Prime Minister that Parliament is not going to pass her Brexit deal: to coin a phrase, nothing has changed. And although I have previously written on these pages of my respect and even admiration for the PM and her dogged resilience in the face of adversity, I am minded to think that her latest mooted attempt at getting her deal through is born primarily of her own consideration for her legacy rather than anything more altruistic. (After all, who wants to go down as the worst PM in modern history?)
Even if her deal were to go through, the fact that she has promised to resign if it does means that the incoming leader of the Conservative Party could very well overturn it. Indeed, her resignation promise was a major miscalculation on her part: why would the EU bother to negotiate seriously with a government if they knew they could very well be dealing with a completely different set of people from one day to the next?
With her authority in tatters and her deal beyond rescue, the best thing that Theresa May can do – indeed her only viable option when it comes to furthering the Brexit process – is to resign her premiership immediately and make way for fresh leadership.
Should the outcome of Thursday’s election suggest that Leave sentiment among the public has in fact hardened, it is crucial, both for the country and for the party itself, that the next Conservative leader be a true believer in Brexit. And yes, that means having the courage to leave without a deal if the EU is unwilling to renegotiate Mrs May’s deal.
If Parliament were to kick up a fuss, then a future Prime Minister could draw on the powers bestowed on the office of PM via the royal prerogative, which include jurisdiction over international treaties. Otherwise, they could merely put their case to the public in an election – with the promise to get Brexit done by any means necessary. In such a scenario it would be surprising if the Brexit Party could not come to some form of agreement with the Tories, should they need the support of Nigel Farage’s party in order to form a government.
Britain’s reputation has been dragged through the dirt for too long. I’m sorry, Mrs May, but you’re the main obstacle to resolving this impasse. It’s time for you to go!