THERE were sparks as candidates for the South West in the European Parliament election on May 23 met head to head in Poole church on Tuesday.

Vicar Pip Martin, who organised the event with the help of local campaign group Dorset for Europe, opened proceedings with a plea for good manners and open minds, then set the scene by explaining that the Ukip candidate had withdrawn after being told one of the other panellists had refused to sit on the same stage.

Chaired by Daily Echo editor Andy Martin at St Aldhelm’s Church, the candidates each had a two minute slot to set out their stall, before responding to questions submitted by the audience.

Labour’s Lord Adonis spoke first, calling the election “effectively a referendum on Brexit, which been a disaster and doesn’t live up to the claims made three years ago”. A second referendum was the right way forward, he claimed.

“The right thing for the country now we can see the deal on the table, now we can see the unicorns we have been chasing around since three years ago don’t exist, is to put it back to the people.”

Remain, backed by calls for a second referendum, was the dominant view among the panelists. Liberal Democrat Caroline Voaden, a former Reuters journalist, said her experience as a reporter in the former Yugoslavia gave her an insight into a “country being torn apart by nationalism and hate” where the people “had been fooled by propaganda in the media for decades”.

She said the Brexit “stalemate” in parliament showed “our democracy is completely broken”, calling for proportional representation.

She said Brexit was “the only election where people felt they could have their voices heard, so that’s what they did”, although she disagreed with their decision.

Jim Godfrey of Change UK said politics had become “more extreme and personal than ever” and it was “a mistake to offer a referendum when there wasn’t a decent plan on how to do it”.

Both he and Caroline Voaden were in agreement with Molly Scott Cato, incumbent MEP for the Green Party, that tackling climate change was the biggest priority.

Ms Scott Cato said the “climate emergency” could only be dealt with through the international cooperation represented by the EU, and pointed to her record on pressuring the EU to do more to reduce carbon emissions, for instance by raising tax on flights, as well as “fighting tax avoidance” and pushing for a “sustainable economy”.

Also, she said “democracy is broken, people need to feel that their vote matters”, and the Green Party was “the only party capable of addressing the reasons why so many people chose to vote for Brexit in 2016”.

The loudest voice for Leave was that of former Tory veteran and firebrand Ann Widdecombe, who said she was now standing for the Brexit Party “because the nation made a decision in 2016”.

She said the “total mess” of the Brexit negotiations was creating a “dangerous situation” where people were losing trust in politics.

“We voted to control our own laws, we voted to control our own borders, our own trade deals, to be governed by our own democratically elected government,” she said.

“I will go to the EU parliament to deliver Brexit. It doesn’t mean being disruptive, it means going on the position that the EU has no right to intervene in our affairs. Every stand I take will be governed by that.”

The Conservative Party’s Faye Purbrick said she had never planned to go into politics but felt she needed to ensure Brexit was delivered.

She said living and working around the world had showed her that “we should work together with other peoples and cultures, but we are our own country”.

“We are leaving the EU not Europe,” she said, and MEP’s must be able to “work constructively with the EU now and long after Brexit becomes a reality”.

Meanwhile Independent candidate Neville Steed, who backs Brexit, was unimpressed with his competition.

He said: “The reason I am standing here is I was looking around at all the other candidates and basically I thought, if the Conservatives and Labour are standing up and saying one thing to our faces and doing something else, what are they going to be doing behind our backs in the EU.”

Brexit Party is 'serious' about changing UK parliament, says Ann Widdecombe

THE Brexit Party is “very serious” about taking its fight to a general election, Ann Widdecombe says.

Despite only being founded four weeks ago the party has signed up 100,000 members – and raised £2,500,000 in the process – and is comfortably top in the Euro election polls with more than 30 per cent of the vote.

A recent poll showed the party in second place in the running for the UK parliament, narrowly edging out the Conservatives.

Ms Widdecombe told the Echo: “I think this is the beginning of a serious change in politics, and we intend to change it for good.

“If we get a real Brexit then our job is done, but I am not expecting that to happen, so I expect we will be fighting the next general election.

“Of course we will have to have a range of policies for that, but for the moment we are focused on Brexit.”

She acknowledged that with her party’s diverse range of candidates it could be difficult to put together a manifesto or “policy document”.

“It won’t be easy, but it never is for any party, they are all coalitions really,” she said.

“We will be devising policy more or less from scratch, and the detail will have to be worked out.”