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I've seen a lot in the news over the past couple of weeks about the UK having to take part in the EU Parliamentary elections, if they still haven't left the EU by 22 May. For example:

BBC Brussel's reporter Adam Fleming says: "The EU are absolutely insistent that if the UK stays in the EU beyond 22 May then the UK has to take part in the European Parliament elections.

"They are uncompromising about that."

Why would the UK have to take part? What would happen if the UK just flatly refused to participate in the elections?

  • The UK might not legally be allowed to take part as well as being legally required to take part. AFAIK the legislation required for holding EU elections has been revoked so AFAIK the required legislation would have to be introduced to parliament as new legislation and I'm guessing wouldn't have a hope in hell of passing through parliament in time – SpacePhoenix Mar 26 at 19:39
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The EU has powers, granted by the treaties that all member states are party to, to sanction countries that fail to provide their citizens with a fair and free democracy. Refusing to participate in European elections, leaving UK citizens unrepresented and disrupting the operation of the European Parliament, would certainly count.

The matter would be taken up by the European Council, which is made up of member states' heads of state, including the British Prime Minister. Sanctions can include financial penalties, loss of privileges and benefits of membership, and legal action to try to force the issue.

There would also likely be legal action in the UK to force the government to participate, from citizens who were disenfranchised.

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    "loss of privileges and benefits of membership" - in other words, the EU imposes a no-deal Brexit? I guess politicians don't to irony. – alephzero Mar 26 at 19:43
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    @alephzero no, the UK wouldn't have left the EU - it'd be a EU member with reduced powers under those circumstances. But again, that's a highly hypothetical circumstance that assumes the UK commits to breaking international treaties, which doesn't seem likely at the moment. – Cubic Mar 26 at 22:16
  • @Cubic: I wouldn't bet too much on the UK honoring all of its treaties much longer. Not that I'm advocating anything; it just looks ugly for the next few weeks. – Joshua Mar 26 at 23:08
  • @Cubic so it's Brexit with a backstop? – JAD Mar 27 at 8:12
  • @alephzero Interestingly, pretty well the only sanction they can't legally apply to a member state - is unilaterally revoking the membership. – Bilkokuya Mar 27 at 13:50
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Why?

Because if the UK is still an EU member by election day, then all UK voters and all EU citizens living in the UK have a right to partipate in the election. Refusing this right to the voters calls the legitimacy of the entire election into question.

Imagine an UK parliamentary election where Scotland refuses to take part.

What would happen?

If the UK are open about not participating, they don't get an extension beyond April 12th. It is not just the UK which must agree to a deal or an extension, the same applies to the EU27.

If the UK promise to hold elections and then renege, that would be a grave breach of trust. Article 7 would probably apply, but enacting that could be a blunt sword against someone who wants to leave anyway.

  • There's no need to "imagine" UK parliamentary elections where candidates openly state they will refuse to take their seats if elected. There are several of them who were elected on those terms, right now. There is no reason why a Scottish party couldn't use the same tactics as Sinn Fein, if they and their electors wanted to. – alephzero Mar 26 at 19:47
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    @alephzero Allowing people to vote for people who have made it clear they won't take their seats is very different from not allowing the people to vote at all. – Abigail Mar 26 at 19:55
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The way things currently look, they would most likely just be out of the European Union because they won't get an extension to beyond that point without participating in those elections.

If somehow they managed to stay in the European Union (for example by revoking their invocation of Article 50) and then refuse to participate in the elections, it's mostly just that they will lose a lot of political goodwill from the other members of the European Union. One would expect it is demanded the UK pay for the elections despite not participating. In addition, this will put them in a worse position in other negotiations (such as the Brexit negotiations) and if the member states feel strongly enough, they could impose other sanctions.

Basically, this is a situation that could go from bad to worse so fast that nobody wants to risk seeing how far the other is willing to go, therefore it doesn't happen.

  • The scenario you paint: revoking Article 50 and refusing to hold elections for the European Parliament, would probably cause the EU to redesign the process of leaving the EU to prevent something like this from happening again. – Dohn Joe Mar 28 at 9:54
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The sticking point here was that the EC feared the UK might revoke article 50 at some point between the EU elections and when the new parliament sits, putting the legitimacy of the parliament in jeopardy. The agreed upon solution is to demand that the UK make up its mind on whether to participate or not in the next EU elections by April 12th, which is when the election period begins in full swing. In practical terms:

  • If these prerequisites of having a deal on the horizon aren't met by April 12th, then a no-deal Brexit occurs and your question is moot.

  • If the UK decides to leave by May 22nd the question is also moot.

  • If the UK decides to stay for longer by April 12th, it means it's committed to organizing EU elections -- and one would hope Article 7 doesn't need to get triggered for not doing so.

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Why would the UK have to take part?

There are fears that if the UK remains in the EU but doesn't elect MEPs then any action taken by the European Parliament would be vulnerable to impugnation on the grounds that the Parliament was not legitimately composed.

What would happen if the UK just flatly refused to participate in the elections?

No-one knows for sure, and no-one wants to find out. That's why the UK has been told that any delay of Brexit beyond the date where it would need to start preparation of the elections is conditional upon that preparation.

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