Written by: Victoria Honeyman, Lecturer in British Politics, University of Leeds
Supporters of Brexit have a fairly straightforward choice in the European elections. The expectation is many will vote for the Brexit Party, regardless of its lack of policies or manifesto.
However, for Remainers and those opposed to the direction Brexit is currently taking, there are several options. With so many options, the extensive choice means the vote is likely to be split across several parties. That could be a problem for people wanting to send a strong message.
Brexit supporters will argue that any substantial lead for the Brexit Party shows public support for Brexit. In reality, it might just reflect the fact that Brexit supporters have fewer options on the ballot paper. So what are the options for Remainers? How can they best use their vote?
The Liberal Democrats have been in the doldrums nationally for years but that seems to be changing. The party has a long tradition of being pro-European and it might have some momentum behind it going into these elections. Its main goal is to hold a referendum to stop Brexit. But because the party wants to stay in the EU, it also outlines several key policies in its manifesto – including committing fully to the free movement of people and fighting the forces of populism and nationalism in the European parliament.
Pros: No party standing in this election is more Remain than the Liberal Democrats. Their current slogan, “Bollocks to Brexit”, tells you everything you need to know about their views on the issue. As a large national party, they have a wide-ranging manifesto for this election. For those Remainers who have traditionally voted Conservative or Labour and find themselves currently homeless, the Lib Dems offer a middle road and an opportunity to deliver a strong Remain voice.
Cons: While Brexit is a key issue in these elections, it isn’t the only issue. The MEPs elected may never actually sit in the European Parliament – but, then again, they might. And if they do, voters need to feel sure that they are voting for a party who represents their views across a wide range of areas. It might not be the wisest idea to vote for the Lib Dems simply (and only) because they are not the Conservatives or Labour.
Change UK was created when several pro-European MPs left the Labour and the Conservatives earlier this year – many of them citing their former parties’ Brexit positions as a motivation for their departure.
The party had a rather shaky start, as many small parties do, and has struggled to gain a foothold. Some see the group as traitorous, while others are simply a little confused about its ideological position and policies. It is nevertheless clear that this is a Remain party. It’s main position is to hold a people’s vote and remain in the EU.
Pros: Change UK is new and largely unscathed by any political past. It has some high-profile members, including sitting MPs and, in the coming years, could become an important voice in British politics and its MEPs might become part of something larger. Regardless of whether you love or hate the Change UK MPs, they followed their principles and left their previous parties, a move that could destroy their political careers. They cannot be accused of cowardice.
Cons: Change UK has brought together MPs from both the Labour and Conservative parties, but beyond resisting Brexit, what do they have in common? At the moment, it is difficult to see where the future of the party lies beyond Brexit. That could be a worry if you want to consider the wider policy options each party is offering.
Brexit has been a nightmare policy for Labour. The party is split from top to bottom, with even MPs and activists unsure of what the policy on Brexit actually is.
Labour has tried hard to keep the focus on issues other than Brexit, believing that will pay off in the long-run – and it might. But Brexit is currently the only story in town, and without a cohesive policy on that, the party is flailing. It has entered these elections arguing that it is both pro-Remain and pro-Brexit, hoping to be all things to all people. It might end up with nothing, and that is a very short-sighted political strategy.
Pros: Labour has issued a manifesto for these elections (the Conservatives have not) and has a clear set of policies outside Brexit – which might make it a good option if you are looking at the wider issues. Some voters may also find it more comfortable to vote for a party they are familiar with – especially if Labour has been your party of choice for a long time.
Cons: Brexit is the big issue at these elections, and the Labour party message on this has been hugely confusing. It has, at times, released directly contradictory statements in an attempt to appeal across the political spectrum. It is therefore difficult for Remainers to believe that Labour supports them. The party’s lukewarm attitude to Remain, and the belief among many voters that Jeremy Corbyn is personally a supporter of Brexit, may make many Remainers nervous of supporting Labour.
The Green Party is small – with only one MP – but it potentially has a big future. It has been steadfast in its policies, primarily on the environment, and now on Brexit. It was, like the Liberal Democrats, Remainer before it was cool. The first-past-the-post electoral system used in general elections doesn’t work well for small parties like the Greens, but the system used in the European Parliamentary elections works considerably better.
Pros: The Green Party has a straightforward Remain platform – including a second referendum. They also have a wider policy platform, focusing on climate issues and the environment – topics many people are thinking about at the moment.
Cons: Like the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party is a working party, which means your vote is not simply about Brexit. So make sure you are on board with the wider policies rather than simply using this as an anti-Brexit vote.
Women’s Equality Party
This small party’s key aim is to create a political system that works for women as well as men by overcoming structural inequalities. The party argues that the majority of those who voted for Brexit were men and that women have been largely excluded from negotiations and the wider discussion about Brexit. It supports a people’s vote but its manifesto is also geared towards highlighting issues that will need close attention if Brexit does go ahead – such as ensuring that any post-Brexit immigration policy does not discriminate against women.
Pros: The WEP offers an alternative voice in the Brexit debate. It might be a good choice for you if you feel ignored or underrepresented in the wider political debate.
Cons: Beyond Brexit, there may be some who do not want to tie their vote the WEP’s central cause. While the voting system for the European elections can work well for smaller parties, the Women’s Equality Party is very small.
SNP/Plaid Cymru/ Sinn Féin/SDLP
The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein and the SDLP all support Remain. Voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will need to look at the policy programme of each party to determine whether they think they can represent them well in Europe.
Pros: These parties could be a good choice for you if you think the voices of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland need to heard more in the Brexit debate – and in the European Parliament.
Cons: You may feel that a vote for one of these parties sends a message beyond Brexit, since each has its own longer term agenda.
Victoria Honeyman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.