As Britain reluctantly prepares for the EU Parliament elections, there’s a new – but also old – kid on the block: Nigel Farage. The tweed-coated milkshake-magnet is back with his brand new Brexit Party, which, despite only launching in April, is holding an unnervingly large 18 point lead in the polls.
If things stay as they are, Farage and co are set to win around 30 of the UK’s 73 EU Parliament seats – making them Britain’s largest party. But what could that actually mean for wider UK politics?
IT COULD MAKE A SECOND REFERENDUM LESS LIKELY
The idea of a second referendum has recently become more palatable in Westminster because of a growing feeling that remain would win. As the skull-numbing Brexit process has dragged on, the public have been forced to watch three "meaningful votes", a host of cabinet resignations and almost endless news coverage, which – many thought – had just about bored the nation into backing remain if only to make everyone shut up. A YouGov poll from February showed remain with a 10-point lead.
But, crucially, any polling that takes place outside of election or referendum time is unable to take into account the pivotal factor of the campaign. The EU elections offer a campaign scenario, which gives a slightly better indicator as to how voters could react. The Pro-EU parties are, in their own words, hoping to use the EU elections as a "soft referendum".
So if the Brexit Party were, as polls suggest, to win the most votes, it would send a clear message that the leave campaign is still very strong. Group those Brexit Party votes in with votes for other anti-EU parties like UKIP and the Tories, and it could just about take a second referendum off the table, because remainers will be too scared to try it.
IT COULD MAKE THE TORIES EVEN MORE BREXIT-Y
A poll from April showed that 40 percent of Tory councillors would vote for the Brexit Party in the EU elections. It’s pretty shocking if one councillor votes against their own party, but the idea of 40 percent doing so will likely be sending shivers through CCHQ. And the disillusionment isn’t even confined to the grassroots – in April, Tory MP Lucy Allan caused a stir by describing the Brexit Party’s candidates as “fantastic”.
The Tories would have to win back their supporters somehow, and they may decide that instilling a hard Brexiteer as the next leader is the best way to do that. The same YouGov polling showed that just 22 percent of Tory councillors would vote for the Brexit Party if Boris Johnson was Tory leader. ERG head honcho Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed earlier this month that Johnson “could unite the party and win an election”.
What’s more, many on the Tory right – including Rees-Mogg’s ERG – may see a Brexit Party win as a signal that the public are happy with a no deal Brexit. This could encourage them to solidify their no deal position and make Theresa May’s challenge of passing a deal even tougher.
IT COULD DESTROY UKIP
If there’s one positive to a Brexit Party victory, it’d be the effect on UKIP. Nigel Farage’s former party have gone in a disturbing new direction under their current leader Gerard Batten, who has abandoned the inward-looking, middle-England Conservatism of old in favour of an angry new brand of Islamophobia.
He’s added a range of anti-Muslim policies to their interim manifesto and aligned the party with the far-right agitator Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson), in a bid to appeal to the street-protest extremism that has brought Yaxley-Lennon so much success. He’s even brought in a pair of far-right YouTube bloggers – Sargon of Akkad and Count Dankula – to stand as UKIP MEP candidates.
YouGov’s polling from April had UKIP on a very decent 14 percent, before dropping 11 percentage points in the past month to leave them on a pathetic 3 percent. The Brexit Party’s support has shot up to 37 percent over the same period. If that polling proves correct, which it may well do as UKIP voters have learnt more about the Brexit Party and their old darling Farage, then Batten and co would be left in a very sorry state.
IT COULD ENCOURAGE LABOUR TO BACK A DEAL
The Labour Party’s strongholds in the north of England are also the places where there are some of the highest numbers of leave voters. It’s therefore pretty likely that the Brexit Party will be hoovering up Labour votes in those areas. Pressure from Leave voters hasn’t fazed many Labour MP’s so far – just five of them gave in and backed May’s deal in March – but if the Brexit Party won big in the EU elections then it could really change things.
Labour’s own internal Brexit debate – with most members backing a second referendum, but the leadership against one – could encourage Labour MPs to back May’s deal if only to get the Brexit issue off the table ahead of a general election.