LONDON: The UK will vote in the European Union (EU) elections on Thursday to elect Members of the European Parliament (MEP), a vote necessitated by a failure of Brexit negotiations which should have seen the UK out of the 28-member economic bloc on March 29.
It is being widely forecast that the electorate will use the European elections this week to punish both main political parties - the ruling Conservatives and Opposition Labour Party - for missing that deadline.
All eyes will be on two fledgling parties contesting on either side of the Brexit divide, with a number of Indian-origin candidates joining the ranks of both the anti-EU Brexit Party, led by former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, and Change UK, made up of Tory and Labour defectors unhappy with the policies of their former parties. "I'm a doctor and I know how bad Brexit will be for our precious NHS [National Health Service] and everyone who relies on it. That's why I'm campaigning for Change UK in the European elections," says Arun Banerji, the Change UK candidate from the North-West of Britain. "Brexit is bad for your health. The EU provides life-saving skills, medicines and research to the NHS," adds the doctor working for the UK's state-funded health service.
His views are widely echoed by his fellow Indian-origin Change UK candidates, including Narinder Sharma and Pankajkumar Gulab from the East Midlands, Bhavna Joshi from the East of England and Amrik Kandola from the West Midlands.
The party, which has been campaigning on the grounds of holding a second referendum on any Brexit agreement before the UK is taken out of the EU, is hoping to make its message heard through a mandate in the European election. "In the last few weeks, our momentum has continued to grow. There are a lot of people out there who do want a second vote," says Joshi, a former Labour Party supporter who is now standing as a Change UK MEP from the East of England.
"I've been a lawyer for over 25 years. I know how bad Brexit will be for the rights of British people," adds Kandola, a legal consultant who is contesting from the West Midlands.
At the other end of the spectrum is the staunchly anti-EU Brexit Party, which has its leader Farage leading its rallies up and down the country.
"I would have hoped for the Conservative Party to deliver on their manifesto and the referendum result, which we were promised they would. Combined with my experience in the Tory party as chairman and now the Brexit issue I felt I could no longer rely on them as a party with the incumbent leader (Theresa May)," says Ajay Jagota, a housing and property expert who switched allegiance from the Tories to contest as MEP for the Brexit Party from the North West.
He is joined by Vishal Khatri from the West Midlands and Alka Sehgal Cuthbert from London. "We have a very diverse range of candidates who are fighting to help deliver the vision of the 2016 referendum," said Khatri as he took to Twitter to condemn a 'disgusting' milkshake attack on party leader Farage during an election rally on Monday.
The man seen hurling the liquid in Newcastle has since been arrested on suspicion of common assault, sparking a tirade on social media both in favour and against such an attack. "It's only going to strengthen our resolve. It's only going to unify us more. We stand united in our fight for democracy," added Khatri.
Both parties have completely divergent views on Britain's membership of the EU but the one common thread is their attempt to lure a growing number of disgruntled British voters, frustrated with the inability of the two main political parties to either deliver on the result of the June 2016 referendum in favour of Brexit or give them an option for another say.
The pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who saw a massive surge in their support during local elections held earlier this month as the electorate used their votes to express their anger against the Tories and Labour, are hoping to further cash in during this week's polls. Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has been campaigning on the basis of offering a 'proper and democratic way' to stop Brexit.
European Parliament President Donald Tusk has also urged voters to back anti-Brexit parties and candidates to try and reverse Brexit. "Our research shows clearly that (Labour Leader) Mr Corbyn's unwillingness to get off the fence on Brexit is causing real damage to his party's electoral prospects," said Gina Miller, another vocal Indian-origin anti-Brexit campaigner and founder of the Remain United movement.
"By refusing unequivocally to change its official policy to back remaining in the EU, and promising to hold a second referendum (on whether to stay in or leave the EU), Mr Corbyn is massively out of step with his own Labour MPs, party members, supporters and - crucially - with Labour voters," she said.
Meanwhile, the Tories are fighting on the unchanged platform of being the only party committed to delivering Brexit even as many of its MPs fear a ballot box battering on Thursday after British Prime Minister Theresa May's controversial withdrawal agreement has failed to clear the parliamentary hurdle multiple times.