THE political situation in Britain looks darker and more difficult, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, has said, in the aftermath of the European Parliament elections.
The Brexit Party emerged as the biggest party after the elections on Thursday of last week, gaining 29 seats with 31.6 per cent of the vote. In another shock, the Liberal Democrats won 16 seats with 20.3 per cent of the vote, becoming the second most successful party.
Speaking on Wednesday, Dr Innes said: “The British political situation is dark and more difficult all the time.” He said that he was “fearful for the future”, even if there were a second referendum on Brexit.
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, said that “steady and calm listening” was required after the results were published.
It was a bad election for the Labour Party, and even worse for the Conservatives, who were beaten into fifth place by the Green Party; it is their worst electoral result since 1832.
The Conservatives won just four seats in the European Parliament with nine per cent of the vote, as the public expressed its disapproval of the Government’s handling of Brexit. The result came days after Theresa May had announced her intention to resign as Prime Minister.
Labour lost seven seats in Europe, and saw their vote share fall by 11 per cent. In the aftermath, many leading MPs called for the party to back a second EU referendum. Bishop Bayes suggested on Twitter that this could be a “game-changer”.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said that he was “listening very carefully” to both sides of the argument, and pledged to support a referendum on any Brexit deal.
He wrote to MPs: “It is clear that the deadlock in Parliament can now only be broken by the issue going back to the people through a General Election or a public vote. We are ready to support a public vote on any deal.”
Dr Innes said that it was now “quite likely” that there would be a second referendum, but that he did not know whether this was a hopeful thing, owing to the “stark division” in the country.
Pro-Remain parties collectively outperformed those parties calling for a hard Brexit — UKIP and the Brexit Party — as they gained 40.4 per cent of the vote, compared with 34.9 per cent for the others.
Last week, Bishop Baines warned that it would be “impossible” to interpret the results of the election, just as it has been difficult to ascertain the meaning of the original EU referendum (News, 24 May).
The leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage, said that he was the biggest winner of the election: “Never before in British politics has a new party launched just six weeks ago topped the polls in a national election.
“There is a huge message here, a massive message here — the Labour and Conservative parties could learn a big lesson from tonight — though I don’t suppose that they actually will.”
PAThe leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, is greeted by activists after the results of the EU election were announced
Mrs May, speaking on Tuesday, said: “Of course the European election results were deeply disappointing for the party. What it shows is the importance of actually delivering Brexit.”
Some of the Conservative MPs who are hoping to replace Mrs May as leader, including Boris Johnson, have seemingly backed the idea of a no-deal Brexit, in an attempt to reassure voters who switched to the Brexit Party from the Conservatives.
Across Europe, there were big wins for Green parties. The British version won seven seats, out of 69 across Europe.
Bas Eickhout, a Dutch MEP and the Greens’ co-lead candidate for commission president, told The Guardian: “Our voters, especially the younger generation, for many of whom we are now their first choice, are deeply concerned about the climate crisis, and they are pro-European — but they feel the EU is not delivering. They want us to change the course of Europe.”
Far-right parties also gained seats in multiple countries, including the Lega Nord in Italy, the National Rally (formerly National Front) in France, and Fidesz in Hungary.
Dr Innes said: “The centre of European politics has held, although it has been challenged. The results are not as worrying as I feared they would be. . .
“The centre, although it has been reduced, is still strong. I am modestly encouraged.”