Saturday 24 August 2019

John Downing: 'Tales of politicians being sent to 'cold storage' reveal still more untold Brexit horrors'


General view of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: REUTERS
General view of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photo: REUTERS
John Downing

John Downing

Heard the one about the two "frozen Euro MEPs?" Well, after winning through a long and ruinously expensive election campaign, they found the seats they had won didn't exist after all.

The nearest thing to a consolation prize on offer may amount to being put into "cold storage". In simple English, it all means that when, and if ever, the United Kingdom really does depart the European Union, then they may eventually get to the European parliament. Welcome to another sidebar consequence of the rolling Brexit fiasco. But let's quickly explain.

When UK voters opted in June 2016 to leave, the EU authorities had to look again at how European parliament seat allocations reflected the population proportions. We could be here for a while battering through the complex details of that work.

But let's keep things simple. It was decided that 46 of the UK's 73 Euro seats would be put on the back burner, pending more new member states joining in fullness of time. The remaining 27 seats were re-­allocated, with Ireland gaining two and going from 11 to 13.

But Ireland was not the only state to gain seats. The full extra seat allocation looks like this: France (+5), Spain (+5), Italy (+3), Netherlands (+3), Ireland (+2), Sweden (+1), Austria (+1), Denmark (+1), Finland (+1), Slovakia (+1), Croatia (+1), Estonia (+1), Poland (+1) and Romania (+1).

But now it's clear the UK will not leave before the Euro elections in the last weekend of May. EU law says if the UK is still a member state it must hold these elections, generating a sizeable Brexit row within a row. And it's another one London has lost - there will very probably be UK European parliament elections on Thursday, May 23, illogical as that may seem.

But the big upshot for Ireland's European parliament elections - due on Friday, June 24 - is that those two would-be extra seats are seriously in doubt. And the complications do not stop there. The two extra ones were allocated one apiece to the Dublin constituency, bringing it to four seats, and South (an amalgam of Munster and south Leinster), bringing it to five seats.

Ideally, you would advise Euro hopefuls to avoid being last elected. But those already in the race know that only too well.

It seems in practice that the final winners in Dublin and South will be in a strange place. They must await the final departure of the UK, which could take quite some time, and depend on the charitable view of their new almost Euro MEP colleagues, to decide if they are to be paid, get any right of audience, and/or other resources like staff and constituency expenses.

Political veterans know they cannot expect too much public sympathy if they find themselves in that Euro limbo. But the reality is that these elections are very expensive and many serious candidates pony up very large sums, sometimes in the region of €100,000, to win.

More attentive readers will by now be ahead of me: there will very likely be law arising from this. The kind of litigation which could go all the way to the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg. And there may be more cases than Irish ones.

Seasoned politicians are already identifying Irish anomalies: the constituency boundaries were specifically drawn based on 13 Irish seats. Also, under proportional representation, the quota calculation is in large part based on the number of seats in the constituency.

On that basis, would there have to be two separate counts in South and Dublin, based on two different quotas?

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss