It has been widely reported that following agreement on a further “Brextension” the UK will leave the EU on 31 October, with the Halloween deadline a gift to satirists at home and abroad.  However, as with everything connected with Brexit, the new leaving date is subject to considerable uncertainty.

First, the UK will leave if and when the withdrawal agreement that has already been negotiated between the UK and the EU is ratified.  Ratification needs a number of hurdles to be cleared including approval by the Commons.  The UK Government maintains a public position that such approval is capable of being won.

Second, the UK will leave the EU before the 31 October deadline if it fails to ratify the withdrawal agreement but also fails to hold elections to the European Parliament in May.  In those circumstances we would leave, without a deal, on 31 May.  The extension agreement makes clear that, unless and until the UK leaves the EU, it remains a Member State with full rights and obligations and one of those obligations is the holding of elections.

In response, the UK Government has fixed Thursday 23 May as the date for the European Parliament election in the UK (with elections being held across the EU between 23 and 26 May) while emphasising its intention “to leave the EU with a deal and pass the necessary legislation before 22 May”.


Despite the uncertainty about the need for elections to take place, preparations are in now full swing. The snappily titled “The European Parliamentary Elections (Appointed Day of Poll) Order 2019” was made by the UK Government at precisely 11.01am on 8 April and was followed by the Electoral Commission’s publication of a timetable and guidance documents for the elections.  The first milestone in the timetable – publication of notices of election by returning officers – has now passed.   As a result of bank holidays in Gibraltar some electoral deadlines in the South West electoral region are different from the rest of the UK but they all come together for (postal and proxy) vote applications (8 May and 15 May respectively) and election day, when polls with be open from 7am to 10pm. Scotland is set to elect six MEPs.

As with other elections, there will be a pre-election “period of sensitivity” which is commonly referred to as ‘purdah’ during which ministers and civil servants should not take decisions or make policy announcements which may be politically contentious. The Cabinet Office has not yet published a guidance of conduct for the upcoming European Parliament elections but for previous European elections a three week period has been recognised – so from 2 May.

If newly elected UK MEPs take their seats in July (and remain there for the duration of the UK’s EU membership) that would require the European Parliament to postpone the planned re-allocation of the UK’s current seats.  Currently there are 751 seats (the maximum number allowed by the EU Treaties) of which the UK holds 73.  On the UK’s departure it is planned to redistribute 27 of the UK’s seats to other Member States and to retain the remaining 46 seats for future enlargements (for candidates such as Albania and North Macedonia).

Whether the elections take place, and if so, whether those elected actually take their seats, remains to be seen.

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This article appeared in The Herald on the 25th April 2019.