The European parliament elections have seen a “green wave” sweep the continent, campaigners claimed, as environment-focused politicians surged in popularity – and in the UK, beat the ruling Conservative Party into fifth place.
As the Tories suffered their worst-ever national poll results, the Green Party leapfrogged them with more than 2 million votes – or 12.1 per cent – and closed in on Labour, in their best showing since 1989.
The remain-backing party more than doubled its tally of MEPs, from three to seven.
Projections suggested Greens across Europe may secure 71 seats, up from 52 in 2014, with particularly strong results in France, Ireland and Germany, where they surged to second place as Angela Merkel’s centre-right bloc and her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, saw a slump in support.
Sian Berry, co-leader of the UK Green Party, said: “Our message of ‘yes to Europe, no to climate change’ clearly resonated strongly with voters, many of whom will have been casting their vote for our party for the first time.
“There is clear evidence from this of strong support for the UK remaining in the European Union, but also for tackling the causes of Brexit – the massive damage done to so many communities by austerity, tax-dodging and diminution of workers’ rights.”
And Caroline Lucas, the Brighton MP, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are expecting now the Green group in the European parliament to be the biggest we’ve ever seen at 74 seats so far. These are extraordinary results for us.
“Clearly people wanted to vote for the Green Party because they know we are a passionately pro-remain party. But it’s also the case that right at the top of our campaign messaging we had responses to the accelerating climate crisis.”
Support for remain-backing Greens and Liberal Democrats showed there was “no mandate” for no-deal Brexit, she claimed.
Left-leaning, ecology-focussed Greens did well among younger voters in urban areas, results suggested. They beat Finland’s social democrats into third place, and even appeared to have won a seat in Portugal despite previously being invisible in the polls.
The Greens’ co-leader in the European parliament, Ska Keller, said that “the green wave has really spread all over Europe and for us that is a fantastic result”.
Fellow leader Philippe Lamberts said the party should now become major players in alliance-forming deals to come, in order to counter anti-EU parties.
“We can see that with an uptick in nationalism and populism, that to forge a stable European Union the Greens are going to be indispensable,” he said.
Irish premier Leo Varadkar got his congratulations in early, tweeting on Saturday: “I want to congratulate the Greens on a very good election.
“It’s a very clear message from the public that they want us to do more on climate action – and we’ve got that message. That’s going to require lots of changes on individual level, community level and Govt level.”
The Greens’ success came amid greater visibility for environmental issues and climate change in particular. Teen activist Greta Thunberg has sparked a rolling series of school strikes by young people, and Extinction Rebellion’s protests shut down parts of central London for several days.
In the years since Blue Planet II alerted British viewers to the scourge of plastic pollution and humanity’s impact on the planet, the UN has warned that mankind’s “very survival is in doubt” due to climate change and other disasters.
Its secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, called global warming “the battle of my life”, and one the world was losing.
Additional reporting by agencies