(Title Image: Office of the Prime Minister, public domain)
I didn’t think I’d be doing this, but today marks the start of State of Wales’ coverage of the 2019 European Parliament election.
I’ve thought long and hard about how much effort I want to expend covering one of the strangest elections in UK history – simply because none of us knows how long UK MEPs will stay in the job for.
We know they’re in the job until 31st October 2019 at the latest, but if Brexit is delayed again, UK MEPs could be in the job for a year or more. If there’s a second referendum and we somehow vote Remain, they’ll serve out their full terms as though nothing’s happened.
But it’s equally likely that if a withdrawal deal is approved by the UK Parliament this summer they’ll only be there for a matter of weeks.
I suppose due to a misguided sense of professionalism – and the fact that this is probably going to be the last European election in the UK and I didn’t cover the 2014 election due to a bereavement – I’ve decided to cover the election properly.
I’m not happy about it to be completely honest and it means a series of articles on the Welsh media which I hoped would be done by July will be pushed back to September. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if another snap UK General Election is on the cards too.
Politically, the fact the UK is even taking part in this election is nothing less than complete humiliation for the Conservatives, Theresa May personally and the UK Parliament.
Why this election is happening: A Timeline
Here’s a link to my coverage of the 2016 EU membership referendum which outlines how we got into this mess, plus all of the Road to Brexit posts.
If you want a neat video to sum up how things have played out to date:
23rd June 2016 – The UK votes to leave the EU by 51.9% to 48.1% (Wales: 52.5% Leave – 47.5% Remain).
March 2017 – The Prime Minister notifies the EU of the UK’s intention to leave (“triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty”). March 29th 2019 is set as “Brexit Day”. Heh.
June 2017 – Negotiations between the UK and EU on Brexit begin. The UK delegation is lead by then Brexit Minister, David Davis MP. A snap UK General Election leads to a hung parliament, with the Conservatives entering into a supply and confidence deal with Northern Ireland’s pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – though Northern Ireland voted to Remain.
July 2017 – The Brexit Bill is introduced at Westminster to legislate for the UK to leave the EU.
December 2017 – The first phase of Brexit negotiations ends with an agreement in principle between the UK and EU. The agreement would see the UK remain in the single market until December 2020, the avoidance of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and a “divorce bill” of up to £39billion.
March 2018 – Terms for a transitional period until December 2020 are agreed between the UK and EU, though the Irish border remains a sticking point.
July 2018 – The UK Cabinet agrees on a new UK-EU relationship (The Chequers Agreement), which will see the creation of a UK-EU trade area, shared customs rules until at least 2021, an end to freedom of movement, continuation of the European Health Insurance Card scheme and the UK co-operating with the EU in certain policy areas. This prompts several resignations, including the Brexit Minister (David Davis) and Foreign Secretary (Boris Johnson). Dominic Raab is appointed Brexit Minister.
November 2018 – The Prime Minister and EU negotiators finalise a Withdrawal Agreement. If no long-term trade agreement is completed by December 2020, a single EU-UK customs territory would be established to prevent border and customs checks between the UK and EU and particularly between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (known as “The Backstop”). The “Backstop” – which would be indefinite until a long-term agreement is reached – fails to satisfy Brexit supporters, leading to the resignation of Dominic Raab.
January 2019 – The UK Parliament rejects the Withdrawal Agreement, while the Prime Minister survives a no-confidence vote. MPs give the Prime Minister two weeks to renegotiate “The Backstop”, but also vote by 318-310 to rule out leaving the EU without a deal.
March 2019 – The Withdrawal Agreement and a “No Deal Brexit” are rejected by MPs for a second time. The EU agrees to extend the Article 50 period until April 12th 2019. MPs vote to take control of the Brexit process but fail to agree on a single way forward.
April 2019 – The Withdrawal Agreement is rejected for a third time by MPs. On 11th April 2019, the Prime Minister and EU agree to extend the Article 50 period until 31st October 2019 – though the UK will be able to leave earlier if an agreement is reached.
Why this election is happening: The Legal Reason
Until the UK actually agrees on a deal (or no deal) and commits to a date for leaving, the UK is still a member of the European Union and enjoys all the rights and privileges of any of the other 27 EU member states.
Under Article 14 of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament is elected by all citizens of the European Union and, like it or not, people in the UK remain EU citizens until Brexit.
In addition, Article 18 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union says no EU citizen can be discriminated against on grounds of nationality, while Article 20 says all EU citizens have a right to take part in European Parliament elections.
Can the election be cancelled in the UK?
If the UK (or, more accurately, the UK Parliament) makes its mind up on the terms of Brexit by May 22nd, the election can be cancelled. As things stand, that won’t happen as there’s no sign yet of a deal which can win the support of a majority of MPs.
Also, as part of the EU’s agreement to extend Article 50 until October, if the UK fails to hold European Parliament elections without having agreed to a Brexit deal, the UK will be kicked out of the EU on 1st June 2019 – an outcome MPs have explicitly rejected several times.