Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
At the UK’s European Union elections held on May 23, Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party won 29 of the 73 seats, the Liberal Democrats 16 seats (up 15 since the 2014 EU elections), Labour ten (down ten), the Greens seven (up four) and the Conservatives just four seats (down 15). Scottish and Welsh nationalists won four seats (up one). The UK Independence Party (UKIP) lost its 24 seats.
Vote shares were 31.6% Brexit party, 20.3% Lib Dems (up 13.4%), 14.1% Labour (down 11.3%), 12.1% Greens (up 4.2%), 9.1% Conservatives (down 14.9%), 4.6% for Scottish and Welsh nationalists (up 1.4%), 3.4% Change UK – the pro-Remain party formed from Labour and Conservative splitter MPs, and 3.3% UKIP (down 24.2%).
Counting Brexit party and UKIP as hard Brexit parties and the Lib Dems, Greens, nationalists and Change UK as Remain parties, pro-Remain parties won a total 40.4% and hard Brexit 34.9%. The Conservatives and Labour, who were punished for their ambiguous positions on Brexit, won a combined 23.2%.
On May 24 – the day after the UK’s EU elections – Theresa May announced she would resign as Conservative leader on June 7. She will not resign as PM until a new leader has been elected. Nominations for leader close in the week beginning June 10, and Conservative MPs will winnow the field down to two candidates by the end of June. The final two go to the hard Brexit-supporting Conservative membership, with the result due by mid-July.
There are a total of 313 Conservative MPs. To be mathematically assured of making the final two, a candidate needs 105 votes – just over one-third. On March 27, 157 Conservative MPs supported an amendment that would have forced a no-deal Brexit, so it seems virtually certain that a hard Brexiteer will be one of the final two. If the membership vote is between a hard Brexiteer and a more moderate candidate, it is very likely that the hard Brexiteer will win.
The EU election results are likely to push Labour into a more pro-Remain position, while the Conservatives, under a new leader, become a hard Brexit party. Theresa May preferred a long Brexit extension (to October 31) to a no-deal Brexit; parliament did not force her to accept the extension. With a hard Brexiteer as PM, parliament will need to do something drastic to avoid a no-deal Brexit, such as a no-confidence vote or revocation of Brexit. Parliament has shown no inclination for something like this.
Greens and Liberals perform well in overall EU results
According to Europe Elects, the centre-right European faction won 165 of the 751 EU parliament seats (down 56 from 2014), the centre-left won 141 (down 50), Liberals 115 (up 48), the far-right (including Brexit party) 103 (up 18), the Greens 75 (up 25), national conservatives 57 (down 13) and the far-left 42 (down 10). The Romanian centre-left party (eight seats) and the Hungarian centre-right party (13 seats) are not being counted with their factions as they could be booted. Hungary’s Fidesz under Viktor Orbán is a far-right party, not a centre-right party.
It takes 376 seats to win a majority in the European parliament. The left parties plus the Liberals, including the Romanian centre left, add to 381 seats. The respectable right parties plus the Liberals add to 337 seats. If the Liberals were to join a right coalition, it would need to include far-right parties that the Liberals vehemently oppose. So I think the left has won the 2019 European parliamentary elections.