Policy differences are normal in democratic politics but Brexit...
Last month’s elections to the EU Parliament produced some challenging evidence about Brexit Britain, but it needs careful analysis. Superficially the elections were a startling success for the Brexit party, led by Nigel Farage, that had only been set up a few weeks before. They also sent a dreadful message to the Conservative party and gave Labour no joy either.
The Brexit Party won 28 of the 73 UK seats in the EU Parliament. The Liberal Democrats came second with 15 seats, followed by the Labour Party with ten, the Green Party with seven, and the Conservatives with only four. The other seven seats went to the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the three Northern Ireland parties, which won one each. The new Change UK party won no seats.
The Brexit party clearly took the support previously given to UKIP, who won no seats, and also swayed a significant number of Conservative voters who were frustrated by the May government’s failure to deliver Brexit. Their support came most strongly from areas that voted Leave in the referendum, whilst the Liberal Democrats came out on top in areas that voted for Remain in 2016.
A neutral analysis of the results show that 32% of the vote went to the Brexit Party but that they performed less well in London (18%) and Scotland (15%). In contrast the pro-Remain parties won 36% of the vote in England and 32% in Wales. The Conservatives only won 9% of the overall vote, the worst result a British government has ever achieved in a European election since we joined in 1973. In sharp contrast, the pro-Remain SNP had its best ever result in Scotland, with 38% of the vote.
The most significant statistic is the poor turnout in last month’s election. Turnout for EU elections is never as high as in UK parliamentary elections, but 36.7% is shockingly low in the current situation. It is likely to be an expression of frustration with the conduct of the Brexit negotiations, but it does not give any party the authority to speak for the nation as a whole. Moreover the six most recent opinion polls suggest that of the two options 54% now back Remain and 46% Leave. They also show support for a ‘people’s vote’ (47% to 35%) but not another referendum (39% to 48%).
All these statistics show that it is not only the MPs who are deeply divided about the way ahead with Brexit. 35% voted for parties open to a ‘no deal’ Brexit and another 35% voted for parties opposed to that. MPs have consistently voted against a ‘no deal’ exit and both the Treasury and the Bank of England have warned that leaving without a deal could be very damaging to our economy. The collapse of British Steel, in part because of problems in achieving orders from the EU, is a warning sign about the risks we might face.
This is not to make a case for either Leave or Remain. The people voted to leave in 2016 and some now appear to be having second thoughts. The Government is preoccupied for the next ten weeks in choosing a new leader and Prime Minister, and if there is a stalemate until that is completed, the October deadline looks scarily close for our politicians to find majority support for any way forward. From a Christian perspective the need for prayer is obvious. We may now be a small minority in the UK but Jesus called us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) - and as every cook knows a pinch of salt can make a huge difference.