Britons are gearing up for what was supposed to be someone else’s election.
For most European Union countries, this week’s elections are an opportunity to elect representatives to the bloc’s legislative body, the European Parliament, for the next five years. For Britain, however, the May 23 vote will take on a decidedly different tone—one in which its voters will select candidates to shape a body that, until recently, many assumed would no longer matter to them because of Brexit. Depending on what happens with the country’s stalled bid to leave the EU (spoiler: No one knows), newly elected British members of the European Parliament could end up taking their seats for weeks, months, years—or possibly not at all.
In an alternative universe, the country would have left the bloc on March 29 as planned. In this universe, however, Parliament has rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s negotiated Brexit deal with the EU three times. No one knows when, or even if, Britain will leave the bloc. Britons remain hopelessly divided over the best way forward and over which parties can lead them there.
It is for this reason that these European elections, which have in the past been low-priority votes that few turn out for, stand to be consequential. The polls have the potential to give a snapshot of where the public stands on Brexit, nearly three years after the original referendum. It will provide voters the opportunity to voice their frustrations and potentially throw their support behind emerging parties. Perhaps most important for those currently in government in Britain, this vote will signal which voters are most mobilized to turn out in future elections.