19/05/2019 08:17 BST | Updated 22/05/2019 11:21 BST

A Bluffer's Guide To The European Elections – And Why They're Actually Important

Everything you need to know before May 23.

Reuters/ PA

The polling cards are out, the mail shots sent, the politicians out on the campaign trail. An estimated 370m people across Europe are eligible to vote in the elections on May 23-26, with around 47m of them in the UK.

But, with Brexit on the horizon, how much does it matter?  

Are The European Elections *Actually* That Important?

Short answer? Yes.

For the first time in forever, the country actually cares about the European elections. Why? Because, with Brexit supposed to have been done and dusted by March 31, the UK should have been out of the EU well before voters headed to the polls.

Now – almost three years after the EU referendum – the election has become a battleground for pro-Remain parties and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party candidates.

Meanwhile, the parties at the centre of failed talks to break the Brexit deadlock in parliament – namely Labour and the Tories – have stuck their heads firmly in the sand.

While Jeremy Corbyn has launched an election campaign seemingly determined to avoid the topic of Brexit as much as possible, with just days to go until voting booths open, the Conservative Party has yet to publish a manifesto.

And it seems to be having an effect. A YouGov survey published on Friday put the Brexit Party ahead in the polls, leaving Labour in third behind the Lib Dems and the Tories trailing in fifth behind the Green Party.

Taking all this into account, the results of the European elections are likely to be *dramatic* – and are set to deliver a serious blow to the traditional two-party system.  



Wait, We Are Leaving The EU… Why Are We Holding European Elections?

They are the elections that were never supposed to happen in the UK – and ones Theresa May certainly didn’t want to fight.

But the repeated failure of the PM to get her Brexit deal through parliament means her hands were effectively tied on the issue – the UK is still technically part of the EU, so must participate in the elections. (Rough estimates suggest they will cost the country around £150 million.) 

However, there is still a chance that the newly-elected MEPs may never take their seats in parliament.

If the withdrawal deal is ratified before the first meeting of the newly-formed European parliament on July 2, they could be out of a job before their first official day in the office.

Even if they do make it to Brussels, it’s unclear how much sway MEPs could have over this stage of the Brexit deal, with negotiations between the UK and the EU supposedly closed. 

How Do The Elections Work?

For the European elections, the UK is split into 12 regional constituencies. Depending on the size of the constituency, between 3 and 10 MEPs will be elected to represent the area. Overall, the UK will select 73 MEPs to represent the country.

Unlike general elections – which are determined by a first past the post system – voting in the Euros is proportional, with voters putting their cross in the box for a party, rather than an individual candidate.

During the first round of counting, the party with the most votes bags the first seat. For the second seat, the original number of votes received by the party which won the first seat is halved and the parties are re-ranked.

The party which then has the highest number of votes takes the second seat. This process continues until all the seats have been filled.

In the UK, around 36% of voters typically turnout for the European elections, with 35.6% heading to the ballot boxes in 2014.

In 2014, voter turnout across the EU reached a historic low, dropping from a high of 61.99% in 1979 to 42.61%. 

However, with Brexit at the forefront of voters’ minds, it is unclear whether more people will be motivated to get out and have their voices heard, or whether Brexit deadlock apathy will have set in. 

So… What Are The Parties Promising?


POOL New / Reuters
Prime minister Theresa May

Main message in their manifesto: They haven’t got one.

Notable candidates: Journalist and current MEP Daniel Hannan, plus London MEP Syed Kamall.


Toby Melville / Reuters
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Main message in their manifesto: Let’s forget our differences over Brexit and focus on tackling inequality in society.

Notable candidates: Former transport secretary and Labour peer Andrew Adonis and Eloise Todd, the CEO of the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain.

Change UK

PA Wire/PA Images
Change UK's interim leader Heidi Allen 

Main message in their manifesto: We need a People’s Vote on Brexit and ultimately to remain in the EU.

Notable candidates: Former Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler, BoJo’s sister Rachel Johnson and Jan Vincent-Rostowski, the former deputy prime minister of Poland.

Lib Dems

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable

Main message in their manifesto: Bollocks to Brexit.

Notable candidates: South East MEP Catherine Bearder and former Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood.

Brexit Party

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Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage

Main message in their manifesto: They don’t have one – but the takeaway from their pledge card is: Westminster can’t be trusted to handle Brexit – Brexit Party MEPs must be involved in negotiations to avoid a Brexit in name only.

Notable candidates: Former Tory MP Ann Widdecome, businessman Richard Tice and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s elaborately-named sister Annunziata.

Green Party

PA Archive/PA Images
Green Party co-leaders Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley

Main message in their manifesto: We must remain in the EU and re-energise the fight against climate change.

Notable candidates: Two lord mayors – Sheffield’s Magid Magid and his Bristol colleague Cleo Lake.


PA Wire/PA Images
UKIP leader Gerard Batten 

Main message in their manifesto: Brexit is being betrayed – a vote for Ukip is a vote to make Brexit happen.

Notable candidates: Current MEP Mike Hookem and YouTuber Carl Benjamin, who came under fire for comments suggesting he would “not even rape” Labour MP Jess Phillips.

(Infographic supplied by Statista)