The short answer is no, despite the best efforts of Remain supporters to spin the results differently. Their thinking was explained by Ian Dunt in a blog titled European elections: Remain triumphant…
Tony Blair put on a similar spin, saying ‘the Brexit Party may have done well, but take their vote share together with UKIP’s and it comes to less than that of the parties in favour of remaining in the EU.’ This line was even echoed by the BBC, with this dodgy graphic…
I think this is, to borrow a campaign term, ‘bollocks’. (Indeed, the BBC has since admitted that their graphic was misleading.) You can’t just ignore the votes for other parties who are in favour of leaving the EU, namely the Conservative and Labour parties. To be fair, some surveys do suggest that these two parties have the vaguest policies on Brexit. Nonetheless, they should surely be included as pro-Brexit when interpreting the European election results – for the simple reason that this is the official platform on which these parties stood.
This was crystal clear in the case of the Tories. Labour’s position was more ambivalent but still best described as ‘Leave with a deal and perhaps a second referendum’, rather than ‘Remain’. Otherwise, why did so many prominent Labour Remainers choose to support the LibDems instead of their own party? And why did the LibDem’s own campaign literature put Labour firmly in the pro-Brexit box…?
Despite this, some Remainers still want to divvy up the votes for the Conservatives and Labour parties into Leave or Remain according to whatever the latest opinion polls say about how their supporters might vote in another referendum. This approach is disingenuous, because it is mixing apples and oranges – you should either use actual votes, or opinion poll evidence, but not some arbitrary mishmash of the two.
It is also inconsistent. Why assume that every LibDem, Green or nationalist voter is anti-Brexit, but only a proportion of Tory and/or Labour voters? Brexit was of course the dominant issue in these elections, but it was not the only one. It’s perfectly plausible to imagine that an SNP voter might want a fully independent Scotland to leave both the UK and the EU. Or that someone thinking that climate change was a more important issue than Brexit might still decide to vote Green, even if they would back Leave in a single-issue referendum on EU membership.
Indeed, YouGov analysis of the 2016 referendum found that roughly a third of people who voted LibDem in the 2015 General Election voted to leave the EU, and a fifth of Greens. Perhaps more surprisingly, the latest YouGov polling (copied below) found that 14% of people who voted LibDem in the 2017 GE would still vote Leave if there were another referendum. Of course, these are not necessarily the same people who voted LibDem in the latest EU elections, but it is likely that there are still a significant number of Brexiteers among them. Even if just 5% of LibDem voters would back Leave, that’s another 1% of the electorate who should be counted as pro-Brexit rather than anti.
There is also a strong case for excluding the votes of citizens from the rest of the EU, most of whom presumably supported anti-Brexit parties in the European elections but would not be eligible to vote in another referendum on membership itself.
However, this could all become needlessly complicated (all the more so if you try to second guess what form of Brexit those voters supporting Leave parties might favour). I’d therefore keep it simple and just allocate all votes according to each party’s official position. Counting both the Conservative and Labour parties as pro-Brexit (as the LibDems themselves insisted), this gives a clear victory for Leave, with nearly 58% of the vote going to the Brexit Party, UKIP, Conservatives or Labour.
So ‘no’ again, Remain did not win.
PS. since I first published this blog we have also had the Brecon and Radnorshire byelection, which was won by the Lib Dems. However, their vote was bolstered by the decision of the Greens and Plaid Cymru to step aside, forming a ‘Remain Alliance’ (as well as the local Tories’ decision to reselect a candidate who had been convicted of expenses fraud). If you tot up the votes of the pro-Brexit parties (Conservatives, Brexit Party, and UKIP), Leave came out ahead on this occasion as well. Of course, that’s not the basis on which Brecon and Radnorshire was actually fought. But since so many Remainers thought this approach was relevant to the EU election, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to apply it here too.