Theresa May is braced for an angry Brexiteer backlash after the government confirmed that the controversial European Parliament elections will definitely now go ahead.
Cabinet minister David Lidington announced that the poll would take place on Thursday May 23 because there was no time left for Westminster to ratify the PM’s Brexit plans that would have made them redundant.
With legislation needing at least three weeks to get through all its stages in the Commons, May’s de facto deputy admitted the government had no chance of passing it before the planned polling day.
Recent polls show that Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party is on course for a stunning victory in the elections, with Labour in second place and the Liberal Democrats and Greens set to outgun the Tories too.
The Conservatives facing a drubbing as former ‘Leave’ voters express their frustration that the UK is still in the EU nearly three years after the 2016 referendum.
May is already facing backbench fury over Brexit talks being held with Jeremy Corbyn in a bid to break the Parliamentary deadlock.
The negotiations between government and opposition were resuming on Tuesday afternoon as the PM desperately sought a way to rescue her ‘divorce’ deal.
Before the official confirmation, millions of voters had already been sent election leaflets from MEP candidates for each of the political parties.
Ministers still hold out hope that if a deal can be reached with Labour and the necessary legislation is passed through the Commons by June 30, the MEPs won’t have to take their seats on July 2.
It remains unclear whether the Tory party will have a full-blown Euro elections campaign launch, with many of their members and MPs refusing to take part.
Speaking ahead of cross-party talks on Brexit, David Lidington said: “Parliament has had several occasions to vote on leaving the European Union.
“So far, every time there has been a majority against leaving with any particularly orderly deal, so we are engaged as a Government in talks with the opposition, and with others across Parliament, to try and find a way forward that has maximum possible support amongst politicians of all political parties.
“But what this now means, given how little time there is, is that it is regrettably not going to be possible to finish that process before the date that is legally due for European Parliamentary elections.
“We very much hoped that we would be able to get our exit sorted and have the treaty concluded so that those elections did not have to take place. But legally, they do have to take place - unless our withdrawal has been given legal effect - so those will now go ahead.”
The minister added that he would be “redoubling our efforts and talks with MPs of all parties” to ensure the delay after the May 23 poll was a short as possible. to try to make sure that the delay after that is as short as possible.
“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,” he said.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, was due to meet the prime minister on Tuesday to repeat its demand that she set a clearer timetable and ‘roadmap’ for her departure from Number 10.
But his vice-chairman Charles Walker told BBC Radio 4′s The World At One programme that Tory Brexiteers were to blame for the elections because they refused to back her deal.
“There are colleagues who have suggested the Prime Minister should go, the Prime Minister has said that she wants to leave early in her premiership, but she doesn’t want to leave this god almighty mess,” he said.
“I think there’s a blame displacement process going on within the Conservative Party at the moment, laying it all on her shoulders. We all need to take personal responsibility for the fact that we are still in the EU and that we are in government.”
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