Three years after a seismic referendum resulted in a majority of British voters deciding to leave the European Union, the UK is about to get a second Brexit vote. Not an official vote, of course, but something very close.
On May 23, the EU will hold regular elections to its sprawling parliament, when 751 members are voted into office from around the 28-state union. Germany, the most populous nation, gets to send 96 member representatives, and the UK 73, while Malta, a tiny island-nation, sends only six members.
If the various political parties in the UK had bothered to honour the will of over 17.4 million people when they voted to “Leave”, the UK would not have had to vote in the EU elections at all. But, for the last three years, politicians who wanted to “Remain” have tried every tactic to stall the progress of a graceful, negotiated exit wherein the UK could continue to have a meaningful trading relationship with the EU bloc, but still remain independent, and be better able to manage immigration and trading with other countries outside of the EU.
As history will record this period as the greatest incompetence in democratic conduct, the fact is that three years of negotiations within the totally disorganised MP class in the British House of Commons — and equally frustrating negotiations with the EU leadership in Brussels — have resulted in no agreement for the UK to exit gracefully. The last date when a hard exit was to occur — an exit where the UK would simply leave without any agreement — came and went on March 29. A three-week extension also came and went. Now the date has been extended to October 31.
The UK has always preached to the world the simple elegance of the rule of law in a democracy. As one of the world’s oldest democracies — and a mighty colonial power whose fingerprints are still not dry on dozens of border disputes in the early 20th Century, many of which continue to cause war and strife — it has, however, become a laughing stock.
The Brexit referendum was a binary choice — Leave or Remain. That the UK’s politicians could not come together to honour the vote amounts to nothing short of a political coup, the kind of coup that British leaders have denounced despots for over generations. True, guns and swords weren’t used, but parliamentary manoeuvres have been just as effective.
Voting to EU Parliament
If Britain is stated to leave after all, why is it holding a second vote?
EU regulations require all member-states to hold the once-in-five-years election to its Parliament in Strasbourg. These elections will be held on May 23 all over Europe. Because the UK has not yet left the EU, it is, by EU regulations, required to hold a vote to send 73 members to the EU Parliament, even if these members will serve for only a few months (when the new Parliament is seated in July, to the time when the UK is supposed to leave the union on Oct 31).
Several UK political parties strongly support remaining in the EU, including Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Change UK, and the Green Party. The well-known parties in favour of exiting the EU are the UKIP, the newly created Brexit party (led by Nigel Farage) and the Conservative Party, led by the current PM, Teresa May.
All parties are expected to field candidates for the 73 member EU Parliamentary election. People who vote for parties which wish to Remain can be presumed to favour remaining in the EU, while those who vote for parties which wish to leave can be assumed to favour Brexit. Thus, when the results of the May 23 election come out, it’s possible to estimate the number of people who voted in favour of remaining versus those who voted to exit.
No laughing matter
But things may not be that straightforward. For one thing, voter turnout for EU Parliamentary elections has been consistently low, reaching only about 35 per cent during the previous cycle in 2014. This compares to nearly 65 per cent for the country’s general elections.
Second, there are more than 3 million EU nationals who live in the UK who are allowed to cast a ballot — and it’s a safe bet that they would all vote for the UK to remain in the EU. This difference could skew the results and provide the Remain supporters with a big victory — a fact which they will spin endlessly to argue that the 2016 Brexit vote was an aberration, sold on false premises, and one that should never have happened. Such conclusions may not be fair because these EU nationals did not have a voice in the 2016 Brexit referendum. That vote was limited to UK nationals only.
In a few weeks, the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit have to face the ignominy of not only seeing the UK still being a part of the EU but also witness (and reluctantly participate in) EU elections three years after the vote. For them, this is no laughing matter.