Liberal Democrats to begin process of selecting MEP candidates for European elections

Exclusive: Sir Vince tells The Independent 'It seems Article 50 may well have to be extended, so it is a sensible precaution to have a process that allows us to select candidates quickly and democratically'

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 19 October 2018 15:25 BST
Indy Brexit Debate: Gina Miller asks why it's so complicated to ask the public for a second opinion on Brexit

The Liberal Democrats are to begin the process of selecting MEP candidates for the 2019 European Parliament elections – despite the vote being eight weeks after Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU.

Sir Vince Cable told The Independent he was taking the “sensible step” in case Theresa May fails to secure a deal before March 2019 and requests an extension to the Article 50 process.

As it stands, British MEPs will cease to exist after the elections in May next year, reducing the number of elected representatives in the chamber from 751 to 705. Some of the UK seats will be redistributed to the other EU member states.

But the party pointed to an article reporting that legal advice received by officials in the parliament suggests extending the Article 50 process would give the 73 British MEPs the right to sit in the chamber not only until the UK leaves the bloc but also for a full five-year term.

Speaking ahead of a major rally in central London with thousands expected to march in favour of a fresh referendum on EU membership, the Liberal Democrat leader said he believed public opinion is “shifting more and more”.

“We are confident we can win and secure a final say,” he said. “That is why we are putting in place a system which would allow us to select Liberal Democrat candidates for the European elections next year.

Sir Vince continued: “It is a sensible step as Theresa May continues to make a mess out of the negotiations and people are seeing the threat of Brexit coming ever closer.

“It also seems that Article 50 may well have to be extended, so it is a sensible precaution to have a process that allows us to select candidates quickly and democratically.”

Earlier this year, the Cabinet Office estimated that the government will save £109m by not participating in the elections next year.

Responding to a parliamentary question, Chloe Smith, a minister for the Cabinet Office, said the government will not take part in the elections currently scheduled to be held from 23 May to 26 May, 2019.

She added: “Given this, the government does not consider it is necessary or a prudent use of taxpayers’ money for returning officers and electoral administrators to make the usual preparations for the conduct of a European Parliamentary poll in 2019.

“The government does not intend to make an order setting the date of the poll for the European Parliamentary elections in 2019. We also do not intend to undertake the usual preparations for Information Exchange between the UK and the member states in respect of EU citizens (including UK citizens) living in another member state.

“We estimate that not holding European Parliamentary elections will save British taxpayers at least £109 million next year; this is in addition to the cost of the British contribution to the EU budget.”

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Sir Vince is among dozens of prominent politicians to be joining the People’s Vote and The Independent’s demonstration on Saturday, demanding a Final Say on any deal the prime minister returns from Brussels with.

Organisers are expecting the demonstration to be the biggest anti-Brexit protest to date, with crowds likely to exceed the 100,000 people who attended a similar demonstration in London this summer.

Household names, including Delia Smith, Sir Patrick Stewart and Ian McEwan, are also expected to join protestors on Saturday afternoon.

A separate petition supporting the aim of the demonstration, run by The Independent, has also gathered 929,000 signatures.

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