So was this a victory for either?
The Brexit party secured more votes than any other: 32 per cent of ballots cast. They said this morning that “these results show a clear win for leave voters across the country”.
The Liberal Democrats came second with 20 per cent, followed by Labour (14 per cent), the Greens (12 per cent) and the Conservatives (9 per cent).
Do voters know where the parties stand on Brexit?
You might have seen a version of this graphic from the BBC floating around:
It seems to show a victory for anti-Brexit parties. But what counts as a pro- or anti-Brexit party isn’t so straightforward.
YouGov research from 30 April found that, at the time of polling, only 53 per cent of Brits knew that the Liberal Democrats were anti-Brexit. Even fewer were confident that the Greens opposed leaving the EU.
Now, it’s very likely that as the campaigns gathered pace, potential voters became clearer on the parties’ position (the Lib Dems, for example, sent out leaflets nationwide that said a vote for them was a “vote to stop Brexit”).
But the problem remains that when we try to infer the public’s views on Brexit, we can’t assume everyone is clear on where each party stands.
What do we do about Labour and the Conservatives?
Sky News took a different approach — this time adding Labour to the “remain” camp and the Conservatives to “leave”.
In terms of their stated policy aims, the Conservatives are a pro-Brexit party.
Some of his front-bench colleagues have signalled support for a second referendum, but it’s still not clear whether Mr Corbyn will come out in favour of a so-called “People’s Vote”.
Labour supporters also seem unsure: an Ipsos Mori poll published last week found 46 per cent believe the party stands for leaving the EU, while 38 per cent said it was pro-remain.
Why are voters choosing particular parties?
And there’s another variable in play: there are likely to be other, non-Brexit, reasons informing voters’ choices.
For example, the Greens had a very good night, beating the Conservatives to fourth place nationally. But is that because of the party’s stance on Brexit, or part of the wider “Green wave” that swept across Europe, which saw Green parties come second in Germany and Finland, and third in France?
And what about the SNP?
Nicola Sturgeon launched the party’s European election campaign with the message: “On May 23, if you want to keep Scotland in the EU – vote SNP.”
But in that same speech, she said her party is “determined to give the people the choice of that independent future later in this term of the Scottish Parliament.” This might have attracted pro-Brexit voters who also want independence.
The reality is that voters choose different parties for a range of reasons. We won’t know for certain until pollsters have asked voters to explain their choices.
Are there better ways to gauge the public’s view on Brexit?
Throughout all of this, it’s worth remembering just 37 per cent of eligible UK voters actually turned up on polling day. That’s relatively high for European Parliament elections, but still only half the number that voted in the 2016 referendum.
If we want a fuller picture on how people feel about Brexit, we’re better off considering opinion polls.
The combined results of 70 surveys, which poll a representative sample of the UK population, find that 52 per cent of voters say they’d back remain if there were a second referendum, compared to 45 per cent who’d vote leave and 3 per cent who don’t know.
The Brexit party, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens had a good night in the European election, while the Conservatives and Labour are in turmoil.
But we should be extremely cautious about making bold claims in either direction about Brexit from these results.
It’s tempting to add up the votes of the “pro-remain” parties, but there’s evidence that many voters are unsure about where the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the SNP stand on Brexit.
And there are other factors that might drive people to vote for those parties — for example, environmental concerns or Scottish independence.
The Labour position is also unclear. Did people vote for them because of their Brexit stance or despite it?
Crucially, turnout was low in this ballot — 37 per cent — so it’s even harder to use these results to work out what might happen in a possible second referendum.
A better predictor is polls that looks across a representative sample of UK voters. Combining data from 70 such surveys, finds 52 per cent of Brits say they’d vote to remain if there was another referendum.