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With Brexit looming, Britain will vote in European elections

As Britain's departure from the European Union remains on hold, the country will participate next week in the European Parliament elections. Britain's new Brexit Party is forecast to win a majority of the United Kingdom’s seats in the EU's 28-nation legislative body. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Voters across Europe will go to the polls on Thursday to elect a new European Union Parliament.

    The United Kingdom was supposed to have made its "Brexit" from the E.U. two months ago, but has not … because the country's conservative government has failed to reach a deal that satisfies either the British parliament or the E.U.

    So the U.K will hold elections as usual … but there's a twist. Polls suggest that the candidates most likely to be seated in the European Union Parliament are those who are most determined that Britain must leave the E.U.

    NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Zorba's Dance, a Greek classic, rings out at a traditional fair in what has long been the Conservative Party's heartland in southern England. It's an ironic selection for Brexiteers because two months after Britain was due to leave the EU, the nation is still dancing to Europe's tune.

  • Voter:

    I did vote come out and I think its been going on far too long and it's a terrible mess at the moment.

  • Voter:

    A shambles.

  • Voter:

    It's a bit embarrassing really, a representation of Britain and our politics.

  • Voter:

    They should have taken Britain at its word when we voted to leave.

  • Brexit Party Campaign Ad:

    We have been betrayed. That is why I set up the Brexit Party, it's why we're going to fight the European elections on May the 23rd and that is just the beginning of what is needed in this country.

  • Host:

    Please welcome to the stage, Nigel Farage.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Nigel Farage formerly led the the UK Independence Party. The driving force behind the 2016 Brexit Referendum. He's trying to convince voters in Featherstone, a gritty town 200 miles north of London, to return him to the EU Parliament, an institution he holds in contempt.

  • Nigel Farage:

    Generally the Brits are very placid, very slow to anger, but right at the minute they're angry, because their democracy, and think about this, we've had a continuous Parliament for 800 years. It's called the mother of Parliaments. We've spread this model of democracy to the rest of the world and yet it's here that that's been betrayed.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Featherstone used to be rock solid Labour Party territory. Like many former Labour strongholds across Britain, this region voted overwhelmingly in favor of Brexit.

  • Host:

    Let's make a big noise for them to hear way down in Westminster. What do we want?

  • Crowd:

    Brexit.

  • Host:

    When do we want it?

  • Crowd:

    Now.

  • Ann Widdecombe:

    Allowing them to dictate the terms of our trade deals is not leaving.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Ann Widdecombe, a former Prisons Minister and Conservative Party veteran, is another Brexit Party candidate, she believes victory for the new party will help to ensure that Britain leaves the EU.

  • Ann Widdecombe:

    I think it's very important that when people look at the British delegation in the European Parliament they see a phalanx of people determined to leave. That is very important because I think there's a very misinformed view in Brussels and Strasbourg, that is, a very misinformed view, that somehow we're not very serious about it and Britain doesn't really want to leave and that may be true of some of our leading politicians, but it's not true of the British people.

  • Nigel Farage:

    Our message is that no longer are we prepared to see our great nation humiliated in front of the rest of the world. It's time we stood up, stood tall, proud of who we are, and able to start forging our own fresh relationships around the world and we're going to fight on through May the 23rd and on to make this a better, more democratic nation.

  • Voter:

    They have totally betrayed us. 17.4 Million people are betrayed by the government. Up north we don't seem to matter.

  • Voter:

    I don't know what my father would think if he was still here, because he was an avid Labour supporter all his life. But it doesn't seem like politics anymore, it seems like corruptics.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    These rallies have given Farage's Party a commanding lead. Latest polls predict they'll get around 35 percent, capturing support from traditional Labour and Conservative voters.

  • Nigel Farage:

    Thank you very much.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Farage's surge has panicked the two main parties. But is this a temporary or permanent shift? Quentin Letts writes about Parliament for the Times of London.

  • Quentin Letts:

    I think it's pretty only a protest vote at the moment. I'm very nervous about going further, because as soon as Mrs. May is gone, if she ever goes, then I think it all changes, and a different Conservative leader will be a very different proposition for the Brexit Party to take on.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Many opponents despise Farage for this anti-immigrant poster from 2016, depicting droves of migrants heading towards western Europe. Some critics say it resembles 1930s Nazi propaganda.

  • Professor Anand Menon:

    Nigel Farage is the ultimate tactical politician in the sense that through his political career, he's been in favor of a whole set of different things, from fairly right wing economic policies like selling off bits of our treasured National Health Service. But he's adapted.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Professor Anand Menon of King's College London says Farage is managing to shrug off race issues during this campaign.

  • Professor Anand Menon:

    One of the things that his former party did very well was realize there was a whole pool of left leaning voters, Labour voters, who could be appealed to by talking about more state spending, and hey presto that's what they did. So he's very tactical, he's very flexible, he has been defined in his career by this one issue of our membership of the European Union. And at the moment of course that issue is serving him well.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Normally in Britain elections for the European Parliament aren't significant at all, largely because of voter apathy. At the last round five years ago, the turnout was less than thirty seven percent. But this time passions are running high because of the failure of Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government to deliver Brexit, and if as the polls predict, the conservatives are humiliated at the ballot box, then Theresa May could finally lose her grip on power.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    So called remainers have also lost faith in the main opposition Labour Party because it has continually flip-flopped on Brexit. In fact, some Labour MPs have left and joined a new party: Change UK.

  • Change UK Campaign Ad:

    Our politics is broken. Britain's two party system needs to be shaken up, this messy Brexit process is the clearest example of this.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Change UK wants Britain to stay in the EU. It's a mix of defectors from the Conservatives and Labour. Spokesman Chuka Umunna is a former leading Labour Member of Parliament.

  • Chuka Umunna:

    We are not seeking to set the wealthy in this country against people who are not so wealthy. We are not trying to seek to set the people in this region against people in London or in any other region. We are not seeking to set different ethnicities, nationalities, and religions against each other because we know ultimately you will not do anything but fail.

  • Anna Soubry:

    We aren't fighting for ourselves and certainly, my generation, we're fighting for the futures of our children and for our grandchildren.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Former Cabinet Minister Anna Soubry is a Conservative defector to Change UK, and one of the most vocal opponents of Brexit. She accuses the Conservatives of turning further to the right and Labour of becoming socialist extremists.

  • Anna Soubry:

    The majority of people in our country frankly find that nobody genuinely and absolutely represents them and this is about trying to do things differently, it's also giving people who occupy that sensible moderate centrist, that progressive crowd, a place to come and join us and to change British politics.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But Change UK is floundering in the polls. Nigel Farage says this is indicative of dissatisfaction with mainstream politicians.

  • Nigel Farage:

    I think that we're seeing a sea change in politics across the entire western world and I think that's the big pattern we've seen with Brexit, with Trump in America, with the wholesale change in Italy, and I think we're now at a point where the two party structure in Britain is under threat in a way it's not been since the end of the First World War.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Back in southern England at the May Fair, local Mayor Chris Funnell is bracing himself for the impact that this wrecking ball of an election will have on his Conservative Party.

  • Chris Funnell:

    I think we've proven over time that we do adapt. This is what is going to go down in history, where we're going to have to prove that we can adapt to one of the biggest changes that we've ever seen.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Britons may express their frustration this coming Thursday, but the slow train out of the European Union will be no closer to reaching its destination.

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