European elections: How a vote about nothing became a vote for something

It doesn’t really get much more seismic than this.   The Brexit party registered 89 days before the European elections, took first place and 32% of the British vote, reducing the opposition Labour party to 14% and the governing Conservative party to single figures, perhaps even threatening their existences.  But the BBC (and some other media) thought that it was also important to point out that “parties opposed to the UK’s exit from the EU secured more votes [40%] than those advocating a no-deal Brexit [35%]“.

This risks missing the point.  The vote for a parliament which the British MPs are due to leave looks like an indicative referendum with the following approximate results: parties supporting no-deal Brexit (35%); parties committed to keeping Britain in the EU (40%) and parties pledged to Brexit and not sure what to do (25%).  

The job now goes back to Britain’s governing classes (as we suggested on 20 May).  The Conservative party needs to select a leader to take over from Theresa May as Prime Minister and try to deliver an unambiguous Brexit by 31 October. Not easy.  The EU has said it won’t renegotiate and some Conservative MPs have threatened to bring the Government down, rather than have a no-deal Brexit. The choice looks uncomfortably like no Brexit or no-deal. 

In which case one group is going to be bitterly disappointed. Which one? Rather than think about depth of feeling, perhaps consider which group can sustain the intensity the longest.

To your correspondent’s way of thinking, the election results suggest Brexiteers have an unusual level of commitment. They think that the process for giving away British sovereignty has been slanted against them, and they see no mandate for it to continue. Their views have been hardening over time.

On the other hand, those wanting to take Britain back into the heart of an ever-closer union have a vision but seem more hesitant about their right to impose it on their fellow citizens (if opinion polls on respecting the referendum result are to be believed).

Nonetheless, it may still need an external event to trigger a break. Senior political figures are starting to wonder if Britain can now be a stable member of the EU under any circumstances. If this view gathers more strength, it could accelerate the push for no-deal.

One last thing to bear in mind. Many of the 3 million EU nationals resident in the UK were eligible to vote in this European election. Most of them won’t be eligible to vote in the next British general election.

LATE ADDITION: To get a sense of Europe’s tiredness of Brexit study this map closely, particularly the area between France and Ireland.

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