Published: 14:00, 19 April 2019
Councils face having to spend thousands of pounds on planning for and organising elections to the European Parliament - even though those elected might only serve for a matter of months.
The costs to Kent councils in the last election in 2014 exceeded £2m, according to official figures and the bill may well be higher as some authorities who were holding other elections on the same day five years ago will not be doing so next month.
Councils have been forced to make arrangements for a poll that was supposed not to be taking place because of Brexit and the failure to reach a deal in line with the anticipated timetable of leaving the EU by March 29.
The government says it is prepared to meet what it describes as “reasonable costs” involved in running the EU election but has told returning officers they should try to minimise expenditure because there is still an outside chance they may not take place.
In a letter sent to the Electoral Commission, the organisation that oversees elections, the cabinet secretary David Liddington says: “Returning Officers will want to be particularly mindful of the need to use public money appropriately. This is particularly the case in the current circumstances. For example, thought should be given to what actions are strictly necessary ahead of the start of an election timetable and what can be undertaken on a contingency basis given that circumstances may continue to change.”
According to an analysis of the costs incurred by Kent councils in 2014, the bill for the EU election totalled £2,054,856 - even though only one in three eligible voted across the south east region.
Canterbury City Council said it was confident it could respond to the EU election timetable. A spokesman said: “It's no different to having a snap general election, and we've managed those perfectly well in the past. It's what we do.”
Meanwhile, a senior Conservative has urged the party to boycott the EU election and says he will not “lift a finger” to help campaign - and warned that thousands of disenchanted party activists will do the same.
Cranbrook county councillor Sean Holden has written to MP Helen Grant saying the party should not put any candidates.
His message says: “We should not be taking part. The party should boycott the Euro ballot for what is, in any case, a charade of a parliament. There is no foreseeable outcome in it for our party except a disastrous defeat.”
“You must tell the Prime Minister that if even members such as I have come to this there will be tens of thousands of others who will say the same.”
The election looks set to be dominated by the return to the political fray of Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader who has been drawn back into frontline politics with the establishment of The Brexit Party. The party was launched last week and Mr Farage pledged to shake-up the political establishment.
He said: "This party is not here just to fight the European elections... this party is not just to express our anger - 23 May is the first step of the Brexit Party. We will change politics for good."
The EU election - key questions answered:
Why is the UK taking part in the election if we are leaving the EU?
One of the conditions of the extended period offered to the UK to sort out a deal over Brexit was that it would have to respect the institution of the EU - including the Parliament. As Britain is still a member of the EU, its citizens have the legal right to be represented in the European Parliament. The only way we could avoid taking part would be for the government to agree a deal with the EU before May 22.
How does the election work?
MEPs are elected under a form of proportional representation rather than the first past the post system we are more used to. The number of MEPs that a party returns is determined by their share of the vote. So, if a party gets 20% of the votes, they get 20% of the allocated seats. Voters cast a single vote for the party they prefer, not a candidate. The parties nominate candidates who are then listed in order on the ballot paper - the higher up the order, the greater chance there is of being elected.
How many MEPs are elected?
Each country is allocated a set number of seats, roughly depending on the size of its population. The UK elected 73 MEPs at the last election.The smallest, Malta has six members sitting in the European Parliament while the largest, Germany has 96.
Do we elect MEPs for Kent?
No. MEPs are voted in as representatives of a region rather than a particular constituency. Kent is part of the South East region, which has 10 MEPs and is the largest area. MEP candidates are usually members of political parties but can stand as individuals.
At the last election, UKIP won the most seats (24) followed by Labour (20); Conservatives (19); Green (3) and the SNP (2). Turnout was lower than most other member states at 35.6% against an average across the EU of 42.6%.
When is the vote?
If we do take part, the ballot will be on May 23 but the results would be declared in line with other EU member states on May 26.