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Britain and Europe – The Impact on Political Parties

The European issue has divided the two main parties at different times, but participation in European Parliament elections from 1979 (MEPs were nominated by the parties before this) also had an impact as the parties had to draw up manifestos to explain what policies they would seek to promote in Europe.


For Labour, MEPs began to reconcile the party to Europe because they funded events and Brussels visits for Labour parties (especially before 1997 when many areas in the South of England had no Labour MP) and brought over Socialist MEPS, and even Italian Communist MEPS, who would explain how important European integration was.


The Conservative MEP group was originally pro-Europe and remained so as the party became Eurosceptic, only changing in recent years. This then created problems as to which group in the European Parliament the Conservative MEPS would join, as the centre right European People’s Party was seen as too pro-European.  David Cameron made a commitment, during his campaign to win the Conservative leadership, to withdraw the party’s MEPs from it.

Smaller Parties

For the smaller parties the change to a proportional representation list system and the lower poll in European elections meant that they could gain representation at the European level if they can turn their supporters out.  Voters may treat these elections as what political scientists have called ‘second order elections’ where they vote differently to how they would in a general election.  This has benefitted the Liberal Democrats but has also seen the Greens, BNP and, especially, UKIP gain MEPs.

****This page is under review following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and Brexit process****