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Analysis

Government doubly misleading on European elections

by Hugo Dixon | 14.03.2019

An official government document categorically states we need to take part in the European Parliament (EP) elections in May if Brexit is delayed beyond July 1. This is part of the prime minister’s scare tactic to dragoon MPs into backing her miserable deal on the third attempt.

The document gives two reasons why we would need to take part in the elections on May 23. These were repeated by David Lidington, the prime minister’s deputy, in the House of Commons today. Both arguments are misleading.

The first is that the “EU Treaties provide that EU citizens have the right to be represented in the EP, and there is no legal mechanism by which the UK could return MEPs to the new EP other than by participating in the elections.” What the government doesn’t say is that the EU might change the treaties to delay our participation in the elections until we have figured out what we want to do.

Helpfully, though, an advocate general of the European Court of Justice, Eleanor Sharpston, last night put out a long thread on Twitter explaining that such a change in the treaties is possible – as well as explaining how it might work. She added that the notion that the European Parliament elections were an “insuperable” obstacle to a long delay was an “oversimplified and ultimately fallacious presentation of the situation”.

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The government’s second argument is that “without UK MEPs the EP would be improperly constituted – putting the functioning of the EU’s institutions at risk.”

The European Parliament’s own legal service disagrees. “The possibility for the European Parliament to be validly constituted following the 2019 elections would not be affected by a potential failure by the UK to organise elections,” according to a copy of its advice that was leaked to the Financial Times.

It is easy to understand why it came to this conclusion. If it were otherwise, any country could hold other countries to ransom by threatening to bring the EU to a grinding halt by merely refusing to hold elections.

None of this is to say whether it would be wise for the UK to hold the European Parliament elections in May if Brexit is delayed beyond that point. There are arguments both for and against.

But this does mean the government has choices. If the UK wants a long period of extra time, the prime minister could explore with the other EU countries what options over the European Parliament are possible. If she doesn’t ask, she’ll never find out.

In the meantime, the government should correct today’s misleading document.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Government doubly misleading on European elections”

  • So where are the comments that once more brexit supporting government representatives are lying? Like they’ve done time and again and hardly anyone appears able to force them to admit and come clean on it. No wonder “the people” have a problem believing anyone at all and regards them as mere job hunters. Turning whichever way as long as they get re-elected.

  • In the current political context good faith and trust are totally absent; deception is the norm of government. Can the Independent Group plus committed remainers not be briefed on the ways around the European Parliament constraints?, Coincidentally I am writing this contribution from the ‘holy ground’ of All Saints in Eastbourne where Theresa May’s father served as chaplain and she was born…hopefully one day she can be more generous with the Christiaj virtue of truth.

  • The requirement for Britain to participate in the European Elections would be an enormous boost to the exit Brexit movement. It will give the the new Independent Group a platform to participate, and being proportional voting (not first past the post) could provide the very launch it needs. Similarly with the LibDems, many people (like me) voted Labour at the last election, in the attempt to unseat May, because a LibDem vote was a wasted voted. The Euro Elections are a very different kettle of fish.

    I urged More United to use its influence to achieve this result!

    David Hughes