European elections to go ahead because Theresa May can't do Brexit in time, government admits

Go-ahead paves the way for what is expected to be a record Tory drubbing by Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 07 May 2019 16:14
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David Lidington confirms UK will hold European elections later this month, as MPs run out of time to agree a Brexit deal

The European elections will go ahead on 23 May, the government has confirmed, finally admitting it has failed to strike a Brexit deal in order to stop them.

Ministers had repeatedly refused to confirm the polls would take place – despite running out of time to pass the legislation to ratify a Brexit deal, which will take many weeks.

But David Lidington, the de-facto deputy prime minister has now bowed to the inevitable, saying: “Legally, they do have to take place.”

It paves the way for what is expected to be a Tory drubbing by Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party, with Theresa May’s party heading for its worst ever performance in a nationwide election.

Making the announcement, Mr Lidington appeared to admit ratification might not be possible until MPs leave Westminster for their summer break in late July – which would mean MEPs taking their seats at the start of July.

Talks resume with Labour today, but are not expected to make significant progress, with the prime minister still refusing to concede a permanent customs union.

“Ideally, we’d like to be in a situation where those MEPs never actually have to take their seat at European Parliament - certainly, to get this done and dusted by the summer recess,” Mr Lidington said.

The cabinet office minister argued it was still possible to reach a deal with Jeremy Corbyn, saying: “The talks are taking place I think in constructive spirit on both sides.

“I never count my chickens and clearly those talks are ongoing, but I hope we will reach a successful conclusion on all the issues involved.”

However, senior Labour figures have insisted no breakthrough is possible without a customs union, enshrined in legislation to prevent Boris Johnson or another Brexiteer prime minister tearing it up.

They also say a deal is impossible without it being put to a Final Say referendum, which around two-thirds of Labour MPs are now thought to be demanding.

Asked about the U-turn, the prime minister’s spokesman said she “deeply regrets” the fact the UK would be taking part in the elections, admitting: “Many members of the public will feel great frustration at this.”

The spokesman declined to say whether Ms May thought people should vote in the elections – or whether she would take part in any election campaign launch by the Conservatives.

Last month, the Tories were unable to say whether they would stage a campaign launch – or even publish a manifesto.

Mr Farage only launched his Brexit Party last month, but polls have put its support at as high as 30 per cent, well ahead of Labour and the Conservatives.

A crushing defeat in the European elections will trigger renewed pressure for Ms May to quit for a summer leadership election likely to elect a hard Brexiteer – such as Boris Johnson – to replace her.

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