The UK is on track to hold European Parliament elections on May 23, having met Friday’s deadline to inform Brussels it will take part.
But what are the elections about and will they really take place?
– What are the European Parliament elections?
Held every five years, the polls select MEPs to sit in the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg. The UK has 73 seats in the 751-member Parliament.
– When will voting take place?
The ballot is due to take place on Thursday May 23 in the UK and the Netherlands, May 24 in Ireland and over the weekend in the other EU states. Votes will not be counted until polling is completed in all 28 countries on May 26.
The UK is divided into 12 electoral regions – nine in England and one each for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – each of which elects a set number of MEPs, ranging from 10 in the South East and eight in London to three each in the North East and Northern Ireland. The South West region also includes Gibraltar.
– What voting system is used?
In England, Scotland and Wales, a party list system is used. Voters mark an X by their favoured party and a proportional system is used to share the region’s seats between parties. Candidates at the top of a party’s list are first in line to take any seats won. Candidates can also put themselves forward as individuals. In Northern Ireland, voters rank candidates in numerical order according to the single transferable vote system.
– What are the deadlines for taking part?
Candidates must submit nomination papers by April 25 – apart from the South West and Gibraltar, where the deadline is April 24. Voters must register by May 7 and can apply for a postal vote until May 8. Polling stations will open from 7am to 10pm on May 23.
– Are the elections actually going to take place in the UK?
This is still to be determined. The Government can cancel the elections right up to the day before polling. Theresa May hopes to get her Brexit deal agreed in time to stop them happening. Under the terms of the delay to Brexit agreed in Brussels on Wednesday, the UK can pull out of the elections if the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement is ratified by May 22.
Brussels has agreed a redistribution of seats to take place when Brexit happens. The size of the European Parliament would be reduced by 46 to 705 and the remaining 27 seats will be shared out between EU countries, with France and Spain getting five extra MEPs, Italy and the Netherlands three and several other countries one or two. This redistribution could take place even if Brexit happens during the election campaign.
– What happens to the UK’s MEPs if Brexit happens after they are elected?
As their constituents are no longer citizens of the EU, they will not be entitled to remain as their representatives in the European Parliament and will lose their seats. With the deadline for Brexit now set as October 31 and the Prime Minister hoping to leave earlier, it is possible that any UK MEPs elected will sit for only a few weeks or months.
– What were the results last time round?
The 2014 European elections saw Ukip come top of the polls, taking 24 seats to Labour’s 20 and 19 for the Conservatives. It was the first time since 1910 that neither Labour nor Conservatives won the largest share of seats.
The big parties face a tight schedule to select their candidates, and it is understood that some sitting MEPs have made plans for post-Brexit life and do not want to stand again. Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party will be putting up 70 candidates and other new parties are likely to fight the election, including supporters of The Independent Group of MPs, standing under the Change UK banner.
– How much will it all cost?
The estimated cost of European parliamentary elections in the UK has been given as up to £109 million.