European Union election results have displayed once again just how divided the UK is on the issue of Brexit. Once again the country is struggling to come to a consensus on what its future relationship with the European Union should look like. A disappointingly low turnout of under 40% showed Britain’s disengagement with the process. The apathy was very understandable when you consider the process of leaving the European Union has robbed Britain’s parliament of almost 3 years of progress in every area other than Brexit. The subject has dominated not only the vast majority of the time given to do almost anything in the palace of Westminster in recent years, but it has also dominated the general discourse in the country. If one thing was made clear by the European election results, it’s that the British public has had enough.
Not content with claiming the political scalp of former British prime minister David Cameron, the Brexit process - and the capitulation of the Conservative Party ever since - has now also claimed a second prime minister: Theresa May. Theresa May has spent the last 3 years fighting the EU, the Labour opposition and most poignantly her own colleagues in the Conservative Party, but it was repeated attempts to dethrone her, coupled with voter apathy and a clear lack of progress with the Brexit process that eventually ended the tumultuous, and some might say doomed, reign of the prime minister.
What happens now isn't particularly clear - the Conservatives will now go through the process of finding a successor to Theresa May, but with so many fighting over an empty throne, is there anyone who can bring the Conservative party together and deliver a Brexit that pleases the majority?
Unsurprisingly, head of the pack is former London mayor and foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. The enigmatic politician is widely seen as the clear successor to Theresa May. His popularity, especially with “leavers”, is unparalleled. Conversely, many “remainers” have a severe dislike for Johnson - a problem that may eventually mean the favourite is actually too divisive a figure to be Britain's Prime minister
Other names such as Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary and Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, have also been linked with the top job. There also some less favoured outsiders such as home secretary Sajid Javid and former home secretary Amber Rudd (the latter of which is very unlikely after ruling herself out of the process). It's believed her very small majority in her constituency could put her in an awkward position, and therefore may not be the best option, despite being well-respected in the party. Weirdly, it doesn't seem to matter who is going to be in charge of the Conservative Party - the EU president Jean-Claude Juncker has stated on a number of occasions the deal negotiated with Mrs May will not be reopened. If this pushes the UK towards the precipice then who will be the best person for the job?
Undoubtedly the European election results were good news for Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage. The tubthumping right-wing pin-up boy was a major part of the Leave campaign and is a well-known opponent of the European Union. His demand of a seat at the table to sort out the Brexit debacle is likely to be ignored as it may only muddy the waters. With a low turnout in the election, his win is not necessarily going to put him at the top table, despite it being an undoubtedly resounding win.
It will be interesting to see what happens next with the Brexit party. Its leader, Nigel Farage, has threatened in recent weeks to try and turn his political force into a general election fighting machine. Whether his heroics could be repeated when it comes to a national vote is unclear but with Westminster in chaos, only a very brave commentator would gamble on the future of Britain's politics. While three years ago Brexit was a huge surprise, three years later it has done unbelievable damage to Britain's political classes and changed the landscape forever. Much of this change must be credited to the Brexit party leader. Farage has certainly found a way to gather a crowd and has used it for huge political gain.
Unsurprisingly, as the only national party to completely oppose Brexit, the Liberal Democrats were always likely to do damage to both Labour and the Tories. The big question which remains is whether they can maintain their position. Whereas the Brexit party will clearly have problems running a national campaign (their lack of history and solid names will be an issue), the Liberal Democrats already have an established support base. While many would argue that the Brexit party won the popular vote, this was only true in England. The national results were not necessarily a ringing endorsement for Brexit as a whole. If you take the parties which were pro-remain (the Liberal Democrats and the SNP in Scotland) there was actually more support for remain parties than for the pro-Brexit ones (the Brexit party and UKIP). Of course, it could be argued that many Conservatives would support Brexit, while many would also support remaining in the European Union - the same could be said for Labour. The biggest problem with the EU election results is they do not really give a clear answer; almost anybody can claim some sort of victory out of them, and this only leads to more division.
The elections results night was certainly one to forget for Britain's two biggest parties. Three years of fighting between them (and of course the in-fighting within their parties), means the public has had enough of Britain's two-party system. Oddly, this may actually end up being good news; many countries have coalitions with numerous parties (the UK is something of an exception). This can often help to bring diverse opinions to the table - it can also cause a breakdown in the process. Whatever happens, it’s clear that Britain’s political landscape has changed, clearly at the price of the Conservative and Labour parties.
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