Politicians in East Anglia prepare for election no one expected

UK voters will be voting for MEPs on May 23. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

UK voters will be voting for MEPs on May 23. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) - Credit: AP

The starting pistol has been fired for elections many politicians in the UK insist they don’t want and shouldn’t be having – the poll for British MEPs.

Nigel Farage in the European Parliament, will his new Brexit Party win seats - or will they be squee

Nigel Farage in the European Parliament, will his new Brexit Party win seats - or will they be squeezed by UKIP? Picture: AP - Credit: AP

It now looks increasingly likely that Britons will be going to polling stations on May 23 to elect MEPs – something that would not have happened if the country and EU had been able to agree a Brexit deal by now.

Nominations have opened for candidates in the election which will be held on a Party List system where voters choose the party they prefer rather than individual candidates.

They will elect seven MEPs across the six counties of the East of England with seats allocated on a proportional basis to the number of votes.

In 2014 the region elected three UKIP MEPs, three Conservatives, and one Labour member. However since then the political map has changed considerably.

Two MEPs have changed over the last five years – Vicki Ford gave up her seat in Strasbourg after she was elected Conservative MP for Chelmsford in 2017 and was replaced by John Flack and Labour MEP Richard Howitt took on a new job and was replaced by Alex Mayer.

They took on their new jobs because they were next on their party list in 2014 – there are no by-elections for MEPs.

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Meanwhile UKIP has shattered. One MEP, Stuart Agnew, has stayed with the party. Tim Aker now represents Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party and Patrick O’Flynn joined the previously-dormant SDP, which is not fighting the Euro-elections.

What will happen in this year’s elections is very unclear. Most opinion polls suggest that Conservative support will be hit – but the splintering of political groups will make it difficult to get a clear result.

On the anti-Brexit side there are the Liberal Democrats, Change UK and the Greens all trying to attract pro-second referendum voters.

Hardline Brexiteers are being wooed by both UKIP and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party.

Since its political implosion after the referendum, the rump of UKIP has emerged as a hard-right party which has former EDL leader Tommy Robinson as an “advisor” to its leader Gerald Batten which many find very unattractive. It does, however, retain name-recognition for those not that interested in politics.

Some polls suggest Mr Farage’s new Brexit Party could do well – but will some voters be confused when they see both that and UKIP on the ballot paper?

European election timeline

Parties, and individuals, have until 4pm on Thursday, April 25, to be nominated to take part in the European Election. All nominations have to include a £5,000 deposit.

The election is being organised from Chelmsford and nomination papers have to be obtained and returned to the Regional Returning Officer, Civic Centre, Duke Street, Chelmsford CM1 1JE.

People can register to vote by May 7 – contact your local electoral registration officer – and can apply for a postal vote until May 8. New applications for a proxy vote can be received until May 15.

Voting is on Thursday, May 23 but because other European countries vote at the weekend the votes will not be counted until Sunday evening, May 26.

And the newly elected and re-elected MEPs then have a few weeks to get themselves organised before they get down to work in the new parliament – it sits for the first time on July 1.

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