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Westminster view: BASW on European elections

Public & political affairs officer, Madeleine Jennings, on why it is important for members to vote

It has been announced that elections to the European Parliament taking place in the 27 countries of the European Union on Thursday 23rd May will now also include the UK. The two-year exit process started by the triggering of article 50 in March 2017 was supposed to take the UK out of the EU before these elections happened.

By delaying the UK’s exit from the European Union, the Prime Minister has prevented a no-deal exit, one that would have a been a disaster for the country, a position that BASW has held throughout the negotiations process.

But she has put the country in the strange position of lhaving to elect MEPs to the European Parliament that we expect to have left by 31st October 2019.

As a result, the race is shaping up to be less about the individual candidates’ plans for their time as MEPs and more about a proxy second referendum on membership of the EU.

Far-right parties such as UKIP and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party are hoping to do well in the elections by capitalising on the general disappointment that Leave voters are feeling towards the two main parties, both of whom ran on manifestos in 2017 that promised to honour the results of the 2016 referendum, but whom many voters feel have failed to keep their promises.

Voters who would normally baulk at voting for the overtly racist UKIP or for the latest Nigel Farage vehicle may be drawn to do so to register their discontent with the status quo. Immigrants and minority communities might be or feel targeted during the campaign and afterwards if the elections are a success for these parties, BASW can help members navigate this difficult time. 

Unlike a General Election, decided under the first-past-the-post electoral system which favours the two main parties (Labour and the Conservatives), European Elections are decided according to a form of proportional representation which gives a greater chance to smaller parties. Such parties include the Liberal Democrats, Change UK – The Independent Group and the Green Party on the Remain side, the Brexit Party and UKIP on the Leave side.

These smaller parties can be influential. At the last European Parliament Elections, UKIP won most seats with 27% of the vote, creating the context for Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in the hopes of preventing defections to UKIP from his own party.

BASW’s position going into the campaign period is that the results of the election help bring policymakers together around a resolution to the Brexit problem that does not harm the most vulnerable in our society, including those living in poverty and those unable to exercise their own right to vote.

BASW is a member of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and you can read their statement on the European elections here. If you want to learn more about the fight against poverty across Europe you can visit https://www.eapn.eu/

BASW urges everyone who can to exercise their most basic democratic right on Thursday 23rd May and to help those who might struggle to access polling stations or party literature.