The EU Elections Weren’t A Brexit Referendum 2.0. It Shouldn’t Be Treated That Way.

Last week’s European elections have been cited on both sides of the Brexit divide as an expression of Britain’s [delete according to political affiliation] appetite to leave the EU/desire for a second referendum, with reference – amazingly – to the exact same set of results.

In an attempt to find meaning in the deadlock and prove why their established position is now on top, activists and commentators have been grouping together different parties’ vote shares into remain and leave blocs, like magpies scraping together twigs only to build a nest precariously above a regularly-smoking chimney top. While these activists may have hoped the EU elections would provide an opportunity to break the Brexit deadlockthey have merely underlined the electorate’s increasingly polarised position on the Brexit debate.  

Lib Dem grandee Ed Davey’s BBC Radio 5 Live rant at Adam Fleming and Chris Mason for referring to the Brexit Party as the EU election winners provided listeners with football-phone-in style exasperation. Davey is one of a considerable number of remainers calling for a second referendum, demanding that the BBC saw remain parties as aggregate victors in Sunday’s results. Over on the BBC’s television coverage, Richard Tice, Brexit Party Chairman and newly elected MEP, insisted – while arguing with Lib Dem loanee Alastair Campbell – that Westminster must see Sunday’s results as a public appetite for a no-deal Brexit.  

Who to believe? Labour undeniably shed votes to the staunchly remain Liberal Democrats and Greens, yet if Jeremy Corbyn were to back a second referendum tomorrow, it is important to note that the vote share of these smaller parties would not be wholly consumed by Labour in an electoral contest.

As one Green Party supporter noted: ‘I and many other Greens above all support the party for its clear environmental policy. There are also many new voters within the two million that helped elect 4 Green MEPs who did so in line with the growing worry for the planet’s climate emergency. If they had been solely concerned about Brexit, why didn’t they vote for the Lib Dems?’

As for the Brexiteers, with sixty-six percent of Tory party members supporting a no deal exit according to polling, this group of paid up supporters – smaller than the population of Islington – is likely to elect a no deal Prime Minister. In the event of a general election occurring before Brexit is implemented, Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab may hope they can use fear of Jeremy Corbyn entering Number 10 through the first past the post system and the appropriation of Farage’s no deal policy to hoover up the Brexit Party vote share.

Still, as long as the House of Commons and its speaker remain staunch in their opposition to no deal Brexit and Britain remains within the EU, the Brexit Party will be a huge threat to the Conservatives (and Labour) in the upcoming Peterborough by-election and beyond by crying Brexit betrayal.

Overall, remain parties citing an aggregate of anti-Brexit votes to support their view and Brexiteers claiming the contrary with the same figures on a far lower turnout than the 2016 vote does not provide evidence for remain or a no deal Brexit. Equally, it is also wishful thinking from Labour and the Conservatives that the votes for smaller parties will simply slide back to them through a change in their Brexit positions, oversimplifying both the destination and justification of voters who fled the two main parties.

Yes, the public voted mainly on Brexit lines, yet parties on the Remain side such as the Greens did not prosper purely from their opposition to Brexit, nor would the Tories be set for electoral success by campaigning for no deal. The public, parliament and opinion on Britain’s exit from the European Union are split in a way that will not be solved immediately with more binary stances from the main parties.

Unfortunately for both sides, remainers and leavers will not break the deadlock by adding up vote shares from European elections that merely underlined a social and cultural divide in British politics that now goes beyond the political and economic impact of Brexit. The polarised election results and calls for the main parties to appeal to the binary elements of remain (masquerading as a second referendum) or no deal show that the divide is deep-rooted and will become more so in the run up to an increasingly likely nationwide election.

[Image: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty]