Newly Launched Brexit Party Leads European Union Election Polls

May 15, 2019
Originally published on May 15, 2019 9:03 pm
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Next week, British voters will choose representatives to the Parliament of the European Union, an institution they voted to leave nearly three years ago. The U.K. must hold this election because it's failed, so far, to find a way to exit the EU. Leading in the polls is the newly launched Brexit Party. NPR's Frank Langfitt went to a recent campaign rally on the English coast.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hundreds of supporters turned out one weekday in Clacton-on-Sea to cheer on Britain's newest party. The star of the show...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He's the governor of Brexit. He is the godfather of the "leave" movement. He is Mr. Nigel Farage.

LANGFITT: Farage is already a member of the European Parliament, which he uses as a platform to undermine the EU. He helped drive the upset Brexit victory that shook the world in 2016. Farage told the crowd their vote for Brexit was being stolen.

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NIGEL FARAGE: We have now openly and willfully been betrayed by our government and by our political class. And we will not stand aside. We will not roll over.

LANGFITT: Farage said he doesn't just want to win seats in this month's vote for the European Parliament. He wants to win them in the next election for the British Parliament. At stake, Farage said, the future of the United Kingdom.

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FARAGE: This great battle upon which we're embarked isn't just now about Brexit. It's about whether we are a democratic country and whether we have trust that exists between our leaders and between ordinary people.

LANGFITT: Farage has never actually served in the U.K. Parliament and is hugely controversial. Many accused him of using racist scare tactics in the 2016 referendum, which he denied. Now a new poll shows Farage's Brexit Party with a stunning lead heading into next week's European parliamentary elections. According to the poll, the Brexit Party has three times the support of Prime Minister Theresa May's ruling Conservative Party.

Keith Fair came to the rally on the Clacton Pier. He says he wants the Brexit Party to send a message to Parliament in London's Westminster district, the equivalent of Capitol Hill.

KEITH FAIR: There's a massive frustration there from people that what they voted for has not been delivered. And they want to hold the people in Westminster accountable for that. And sending a message by the EU elections is the obvious way to do it.

LANGFITT: Angela Lawrence, a writer, also backs the Brexit Party, which claims 100,000 members. She hopes the party could eventually put her homeland back on what she sees as a path to success.

ANGELA LAWRENCE: People have stopped believing in this country. And it's time we had that self-belief back, which, in fact, Nigel's original campaign engendered. We had a huge amount of optimism and self-belief, and we need to regain that.

LANGFITT: After blowing through two deadlines, the U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU by Halloween. Once it leaves, the results of this month's EU parliamentary vote become academic. But many analysts will be watching the race not just to see who wins and loses. Among them is Simon Usherwood, a political scientist at the University of Surrey.

SIMON USHERWOOD: Probably much more consequential in the long run is what it says about where the U.K. is for voters on the Brexit issue - that this is being treated as kind of a referendum on the process.

LANGFITT: The Brexit process has turned Britain's once reliable brand of politics upside down, polarizing the British people and splitting the country's two major parties, the Conservatives and Labour. Usherwood says this month's vote might provide a glimpse of what could emerge from the wreckage.

USHERWOOD: It's really about, well, what's the next stage in British politics? You know, I think there's a feeling that this is maybe an opportunity to recast British politics - you know? - get away from the old politics and have new parties and new people, new divisions. You know, it's not about left versus right. It might be about cosmopolitans versus the left-behinds.

LANGFITT: And while the Brexit Party is riding high at the moment, Usherwood says if it wants to compete for power in the U.K., it will have to develop policies that go beyond its name. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Clacton-on-Sea.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAME IMPALA SONG, "PATIENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.