Published: 13:45, 20 May 2019
| Updated: 18:36, 20 May 2019
It is an election that could see the winners serving just months rather than years and a record low turnout.
Political Editor Paul Francis assesses the prospects of the parties in the European election and explains why the ballot is taking place.
The EU elections explained
Prospects: If the party took a beating in the council elections, then it could be in for an even more bruising outcome in this ballot. Even loyal card-carrying party members are refusing to help with the party’s campaign in protest at the failure to deliver Brexit. They have not been helped by the defection of former Conservative Maidstone MP Ann Widdecombe. She is not just supporting The Brexit Party but standing as a candidate for it. An estimated 40% of Conservative councillors are reported to be backing the Brexit Party, which has been set up by Nigel Farage.
Soundbite: “Amid all the noise and posturing, someone has to get on with the unglamorous business of actually delivering Brexit. That is what battle-hardened Conservative MEPs will help do” - South East MEP Dan Hannan
Prediction: An electoral bloodbath is on the cards - barring a miracle.
Brexit position: Says there should be no referendum on Brexit deal and it remains focused on implementing the decision to leave made in 2016.
University of Kent held a hustings ahead of the vote
Prospects: The outlook might not be quite as bleak as it is for the Conservatives but in voters’ eyes, is seen as shouldering some of the blame for the failure to deliver on Brexit. Confusion over where it exactly stands on the issue and in particular the circumstances in which it would back a second referendum or “people’s vote” has not helped: it is seen as backing both sides and its nuanced positioning has left even party members confused and voters perplexed. However, those who want some kind of second vote might see it as the best bet despite the ambiguity.
Soundbite: “Labour will never be the party of the 52% or of the 48%. We are the party of the great majority who reject the politics of smear and scapegoating” - leader Jeremy Corbyn on a visit to Medway.
Prediction: Unlikely to be as bad a battering as the Conservative party will get but could pay a price for its confused policy.
Brexit position: Opposes the PM's Brexit deal, arguing it would be bad for the economy and workers' rights. The party also says we should remain in a permanent customs union with the EU. If the deal doesn’t meet its terms, Labour want to force a general election. If it cannot secure that, backs option of people’s vote on any deal.
Prospects: On paper, the party ought to be the chief beneficiary of the Europhile vote and is unambiguously pro-Remain. But there are fears that the “stay” vote could be split between them, the Green party and the new kids on the block - Change UK - and that if that happens, then it might not enjoy the success it hopes for. Its manifesto slogan "Stop Brexit” has attracted some ridicule but at least it says what it does on the tin.
Soundbite: “We now live in a remain country. A big vote for the Liberal Democrats as the party for ‘remain’ is a moral force that no government can possibly ignore. It firmly makes the case for there to be a People’s Vote on any proposed deal.” Anthony Hook, Faversham county councillor who is second on the party’s list.
Prediction: Ought to feature well but might get squeezed by other pro-EU parties.
Brexit position: Wants to hold a further referendum on Brexit, at which it would campaign for the UK to remain a member of the EU.
"Every vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to stop Brexit," its manifesto says.
Prospects: Firmly planted in the “remain” camp, the Greens have always punched above their weight when it comes to EU elections making a breakthrough some 20 years ago under the system of proportional representation. The party has been buoyed by its successes in the recent council elections - in Kent, it picked up a string of seats, notably in Folkestone and Hythe, that have given it confidence that it could do well although it faces the same issue as the Liberal Democrats - voters splitting the “remain” vote.
Soundbite: "We're the strongest choice you can make if you're a pro-EU voter, but even if you're not, we're the ones who are looking at the problems that led to Brexit in the first place” - Sian Berry, joint leader.
Prediction: Could benefit from its enhanced presence in local councils and the attention being given to the issue of climate change.
Brexit position: Party says it supports another referendum on Brexit, at which it would campaign to remain in the EU. It says opting not to leave the EU can be the start of the "genuine social and economic transformation this country needs".
Prospects: One of two new parties that have emerged in recent months, the fledgling outfit is facing its first electoral test of public opinion and after a confident start has somewhat stalled in terms of attracting wide public support. Its mix of disaffected Labour and Conservative MPs has advantages and disadvantages - the marriage of centre left and ‘one nation’ MPs is arguably a strength but the momentum it generated on its launch seems to have dropped. It has also had its first defection: unhelpfully, one of its candidates has left to join the Liberal Democrats.
Soundbite: “Brexit is the biggest symbol of our broken system – and the main parties are the cause” - party manifesto
Prediction: Could bomb spectacularly as it has refused to enter into any pacts with other parties in the remain camp.
Brexit position: Will push for any Brexit deal negotiated to be subject of a referendum, or "People's Vote." Party would campaign for the UK to remain in the EU. Its elected MEPs would refuse to ratify any Brexit deal that had not been "approved" by the public.
The Brexit Party
Prospects: If there is one party which is looking ahead to the poll brimming with confidence rather than full of apprehension, it is Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which - if opinion polls are to be believed - is on course for victory barely weeks after it was launched. Admittedly, it is a single issue party but that is what appeals to disillusioned voters of the main parties. Farage, who is standing in the south east region, has as many admirers as he does detractors. It doesn’t matter to the one-man band who remains a formidable and shrewd political figure. The question is what it will do assuming that it does win.
Soundbite: "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” - Nigel Farage
Prediction: The irrepressible leader seems destined for victory - if the polls are to be believed. But what next?
Brexit position: Will work to stop any deal between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. Will push for Brexit on World Trade Organisation terms without any withdrawal agreement with the EU. Its MEPs will not pay the £39bn financial settlement the government has agreed to pay to the EU to settle existing debts and future obligations.
Prospects: Seems to be diminishing the closer we get to the vote, the party has been overshadowed by the former leader’s new Brexit party. But it has not completely imploded and confounded some who predicted it would in the recent council elections - with the exception of Thanet, the one authority it took control of in 2015. It would be a major surprise if it outpolled the Brexit Party.
Soundbite: “Ukip is the authentic party of Brexit, the true party of leave. The Brexit party does not have any candidates, it is not a proper political party. All you get from Nigel is rhetoric” - leader Gerald Batten
Prediction: Not quite the force it was but will continue to draw some support from those who find it a more authentic Brexit voice.
Brexit position: Wants the UK to leave and would reject Article 50 saying it is time to "stop asking the European Union how we can leave, and start telling them how we will leave."
Says it stands for "Brexit, and an independent democratic Britain governed under its own laws and by its own parliament and government."
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 have avoided taking part would have been 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 election?
The ballot in the UK will be on May 23 but the results will be declared in line with other EU member states on May 26.
Runners and riders - some of the Kent politicians vying for your vote:
Former Kent Conservative MEP Richard Ashworth has defected to the Change UK party and is the number one candidate for the South East region. He was suspended by the Conservative party two years ago.
Brought up in Folkestone, Mr Ashworth was the Conservative chief whip in the European Parliament between 2008 and 2017.
Two Kent Conservative councillors are among candidates nominated for the South East region: Swale county councillor Mike Whiting and Sevenoaks councillor Anna Firth.
The Liberal Democrats are fielding the long-standing MEP Catherine Bearder as its number one candidate with the Faversham county councillor Anthony Hook as its second of ten.
As expected, Nigel Farage is the top candidate for the Brexit Party, which he launched earlier this month because of what he claimed was the failure of the government to deliver on its commitment to secure a deal to leave the EU.
Ukip has nominated the Tunbridge Wells barrister Piers Wauchope as its number one candidate.
Mr Wauchope contested the North Thanet constituency in the general election in 2015.
The Chancellor of the University Gavin Esler, a BBC broadcaster for many years, is running for the Change UK party in the London region.
The full list of South East candidates, by party, are:
Leslie Groves Williams
Phelim Mac Cafferty
Troy De Leon
Catherine Bearder 1
Antony Hook 2
Judith Bunting 3
Martin Tod 4
Liz Leffman 5
Chris Bowers 6
Giles Goodall 7
Ruvi Ziegler 8
Nick Perry 9
John Vincent 10
Belinda de Lucy
Socialist Party of Great Britain
UK European Union Party