Why does the U.K. have to have European Parliamentary Elections?

It seems odd to many that nearly three years after a referendum that voted to leave the EU the U.K. is on the point of holding elections for the European Parliament. Of course the U.K. would not need those elections at all if it had managed to leave the EU on the timescale envisaged by the Government. That the U.K. hasn’t is entirely down to the Government.

So why does the U.K. need to have MEPs in place for what could be a very short period?

Under the international treaties (agreements) between the member states that are the rules of the EU, member states must have MEPs elected by their people and to the countries share of the votes in the Council - the two bodies that make EU law. So no election, MEPs, no membership.

Why does this matter? Could the U.K. just not send MEPs?

If the U.K. didn’t sent MEPs but was still a member state the decisions of the European Parliament made without U.K. MEPs could be legally challenged. The EU is a ‘rules based organisation’. The Union must follow the legal process.

Why could the U.K. not just make a special arrangement?

This is theoretically possible, however everyone else would have to agree to a special ‘protocol’ - an addition to the treaty that would allow the U.K. to make appointments. Approving such an agreement would taking time. MEPs cannot serve in national and the European Parliament, so who could be legitimately appointed?

What if the U.K. started Elections and called them off as it then left the EU?

This would be a problem because the elections would leave U.K. citizens in the EU27 would be entitled to vote in the 27 Member States, some may have voted, calling into question the legality of the elections. Similarly, EU citizens who voted or expected to vote in the U.K. would have been denied a vote in their home country. So for the U.K. to commence elections and not to conclude the process could be seen to be deliberately disruptive. Anyway, doesn't the Prime Minister understand we are quite enough of a laughing stock as it is?

What if the U.K. took part in the elections and the MEPs didn’t take their seats?

Less of a problem if a little odd, as well as being another sure way to wind up the EU27. In any case, the one point at which the U.K. must have MEPs in the Parliament is if and when the treaty governing the UK’s exit is ratified, otherwise the treaty is invalid so the terms of the UK’s exit could be legally questioned.

Why was President Macron so wound up about all this?

It wasn’t just him. The seats in the Parliament had been reorganised for the elections without the U.K. so that some member states got a few more MEPs - including France. It is more than a little inconvenient to revert to the old distribution.

Surely Theresa May understands this?

You might think so. I couldn’t possibly comment.