UK campaigners gear up for EU vote in shadow of Brexit

With Brexit passions running high, campaigners are hitting Britain’s streets and taking to social media ahead of European elections.

Political parties old and new are gearing up for what has been described as a “zombie” election that was never meant to be held until Britain delayed its scheduled departure from the European Union.

The vote could now become a poll on Brexit — three years on from a referendum in which 52 percent voted to leave the bloc.

“I see it as a soft referendum,” said Isis Queresma-Cabral, 44, a French citizen in Britain for 19 years and a pro-EU election activist.

“(It’s) an opportunity for us European citizens who felt hurt by the first referendum to voice that,” she said.

Brexiteers are similarly minded, with social worker Richard Harris, 37, joining anti-EU firebrand Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party.

At its April 12 campaign launch, he predicted “the biggest slap in the face for the party political system that we’ve had in generations.”


‘Intriguing contest’

The May 23 vote looms with Britain in a deep political crisis over its stalled departure from the European Union after nearly half a century of membership.

Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to ask EU leaders for a second delay this month that could run until October 31 amid continued opposition from MPs to her divorce deal.

She had previously said it would be “unacceptable” to ask Britons to participate in the poll but has been left with little choice.

The government continues to claim hope it could be scrapped if talks with the main opposition Labour Party break the Brexit deadlock.

But few are expecting that in the coming weeks, leaving a febrile atmosphere for European elections that have recently favored anti-establishment forces in Britain.

“We have ourselves a phenomenally intriguing contest,” wrote Patrick English, a lecturer at the University of Exeter.

“New parties have arrived and are eating into the vote share of the old guard, who are struggling to retain much of their support.”

Pollsters say the rise of new parties makes the result hard to predict.


‘A very bad idea’

Change UK, a new anti-Brexit party formed by breakaway MPs from Britain’s two main parties, could get votes from EU supporters.

But Farage’s Brexit Party is topping the polls, picking up endorsements from Brexit supporters disgruntled at both the ruling Conservative and the main opposition Labour Party for their stances on Brexit.

Farage previously led the UK Independence Party (UKIP) to victory at the last European elections in 2014 — one of the factors that prompted then prime minister David Cameron to call a referendum on EU membership.

Neither of Britain’s two main parties, which have been riven with internal divisions over Brexit, held campaign launch events, opting to release candidate lists quietly online this week.

Some Conservative activists have vowed not to campaign in protest at May’s current failure to deliver Brexit — or even to switch allegiance to Farage.

Ashley Fox MEP, the party’s leader in Brussels, has called holding the election “a very bad idea” and campaigners have reported hostility — and even violence — while out canvassing.


‘No point voting’

As a result, activists are waging much of the battle online.

“I’m spending 18 hours a day campaigning, eight hours roughly on social media,” pro-European Magdalena Williams told AFP.

The self-described “hard Remainer” who moved to Britain from Hungary in 1970 said she manages 11 pro-EU Facebook groups.

She has committed to the Liberal Democrats for this election.

“It’s a good opportunity to show that we are actually a majority,” Williams said, referring to the pro-EU side.

However, some angry eurosceptics plan to boycott the poll over Brexit’s “betrayal”.

“There’s no point voting,” said 35-year-old London construction worker Charlie Smith.

Wielding his mobile phone displaying the result of the 2016 referendum, he added: “We voted for Brexit and they’re not delivering it.

“That’s why I won’t be voting for any of them.”

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