Can a new pro-EU party change Brexit?

Do you think that a new pro-EU political party has some chance to succeed or at least to stir the British political scéne or not, and why? Read few comments.

Caitlin Milazzo, Associate Professor, School of Politics & International Relations, University of Nottingham

I remain sceptical that a new pro-EU party will be successful. Our first-past-the-post electoral system creates a significant barrier to new parties, even if public opinion appears to be in their favour. UKIP in 2015 is an excellent example. Whether public opinion is in favour of a pro-EU party is questionable. The latest polling numbers indicate that a majority of the public still favours Brexit. Moreover, there is no election due prior to Brexit, so it is difficult to see how an pro-EU party could prevent Brexit. And, by the time of the next election, we will have already left the EU, so it will be too late to have its desired effect.

Matthew Francis, Teaching Fellow, School of History and Cultures, University of Birmingham

The answer depends on what you mean by “succeed”. The Democrats are unlikely to have much electoral success, simply because there is not the political space for them. While there are a number of voters discontented with the stance of the two main parties on Brexit, there are probably not enough for whom Brexit is a decisive issue. And, in any case, the obvious destination for those voters is the Liberal Democrats, not a hypothetical new centre party.

The experience of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) does show that a party does not necessarily need to have electoral success to have a political impact. UKIP was a major force in British politics, despite winning hardly any votes. If the Democrats (or, more likely, the Liberal Democrats) could peel away anti-Brexit voters from the either Labour or the Conservatives, one of those parties might feel compelled to take a more moderate stance on Europe. I think it is very unlikely, however: for ideological reasons, the leaders of both Labour and the Conservatives are essentially committed to a “hard Brexit” (i.e. leaving the Single Market and Customs Union) and I cannot see a new party changing that.

Tim BaleProfessor of Politics, Queen Mary, University London

It really depends on whether it can attract some disaffected Labour and Conservative MPs to join it.  If it can’t – and it seems unlikely at the moment – it will die a death pretty quickly, I suspect. If it does, it has a chance – but only if Brexit, the ‘hard’ version of which is now supported by both main parties, begins to look like it’s going to go badly wrong, and only if it finds itself a decent leader.

In that case, then it could pose a sufficient threat to either or both of the Conservatives and Labour that they begin to co-opt its policies.  A new party will be influential if it manages to make the latter happen. Permanently replacing one of the main parties is much less likely, although not impossible.

Thomas LundbergLecturer in Politics, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow

The concise answer is that a new pro-EU party is unlikely to appear at all, and even if one did, it would not get very far. This is because most elected politicians are quite ‘tribal’, meaning that they tend to stick with the party they have been in, even where there are major disagreements with the party’s direction or current policies. Defections are unusual in this country. When there is a major defection, as in the case of the Social Democrats, who left Labour in 1981, the first-past-the-post electoral system here makes it hard for such new parties to win seats (even if they have significant vote shares), and even after their merger with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats, they continued to be hurt by the electoral system. British politicians will be well aware of this, so it’s unlikely that a new pro-EU party will emerge. By the way, there already is one – the Liberal Democrats – who did very poorly in June’s election (7.4% of the vote, actually down from 7.9% in 2015). Indeed, other pro-EU parties lost support as well (SNP, Greens).

Jonathan Tonge, Professor of Politics, University of Liverpool

A new pro-EU party has no chance of succeeding. We had a pro-EU party at the recent General Election – and look how badly the Liberal Democrats performed. A ‘Rejoin the EU’ party MIGHT have a chance IF the economic consequences of leaving the EU are shown to be disastrous in a few years – but at this stage such a party would flop.

 

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