A former Tory minister has claimed that holding European Parliament elections would further damage ‘pretty shaky’ trust in politics.
Lord Robathan told the House of Lords said people would ‘at the very least be astonished’ if the UK went ahead with the polls next month, following vote to leave the EU.
But Conservative frontbencher Lord Young pointed out that the Brexiteer peer was better placed to persuade his hardline colleagues in the Commons to finally back the prime minister’s deal and so avoid the need to hold the May 23 elections.
The government faces a race against the clock to ratify a Brexit agreement in time to cancel the elections.
The existing deal has already been the subject of three defeats.
Lord Young told peers: ‘It remains the government’s intention to leave the EU with a deal before May 23 so that we do not need to participate in European parliamentary elections.
‘However, we have taken the necessary steps required by law should we have to participate, and we have provided the necessary legislation for returning officers to hold potential European parliamentary elections on May 23.’
But pressing the government, Lord Robathan said: ‘Whatever position people took in the referendum and have taken since, surely the people of this country will at the very least be astonished if we fight these elections.
‘Our friends in Europe and elsewhere are already pretty bemused.
‘Should it come to pass that we fight these elections, the trust in Parliament and politicians that is already pretty shaky will be further harmed, so will he consider what action the government can take to bolster that trust before it completely disappears?’
Lord Young said: ‘I hear his concern about the breach of public trust that would occur were that eventuality to take place.’
He added: ‘I am as anxious as he is to avoid holding the European elections.
‘With that objective in mind, I believe that he might have more leverage with the European Research Group than I have.
‘Perhaps he could persuade those who have so far declined to do so to back the deal so that we have a better chance to call off the election.’