BME representation amongst the new UK MEPs

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As with my previous post looking into gender equality amongst the new set of UK MEPs, I thought it might be worth repeating the exercise instead looking at ethnic minority representation (often termed BME – black and minority ethnic).

This is a slightly more tricky exercise, as working out the backgrounds of MEPs using brief internet searches can be tricky in some cases (I have relied on MEPs being clearly from black or Asian backgrounds to be categorised as BME). The dataset I compiled, which is based on the Wikipedia page here (I added the sex and BME columns), can be accessed at the bottom of this blog post.

In the table above, the dotted red line represents the percentage of the population in the UK that are generally classified as being from a minority ethnic group. This is 14% (based on the 2011 census). Of course, this may now be out-of-date; the next census is due to take place in 2021. As with the gender analysis, low numbers of MEPs for particular parties makes the numbers less stable (one MEP here or there can make a big difference to percentages).

However, overall representation of BME people in the MEPs (12%) is not too far off the UK 2011 census figure (14%). In terms of party level figures, the Conservative Party seems to do surprisingly well at first glance, but this is more because they have so few MEPs (4 in total). The Labour Party also does well, with 2 of its 10 MEPs coming from BME groups. The Green Party only has 1 BME member in its 7 MEPs, but this still gives it a percentage which matches the census.

The Liberal Democrats also come close to matching the census at 13% (if they had had one more BME member in their 16, the figure would be 19%). the Brexit Party do surprisingly well too, considering they are bound to be anti-immigration, but don’t quite match the census figure at 10% BME members; they would need one more BME member to match the census figure. Unfortunately, amongst all the other parties, no additional BME members were elected. Considering the low proportion of ethnic minorities in Scotland (4%), the Scottish National Party figure is possibly not that surprising.

Of course, concluding anything from this analysis about the ‘correct’ number of BME MEPs is complicated. The 2011 census is highly likely to undercount BME people now living in the UK due to changes in demographics over time. Also, BME people living in the UK may be less likely to respond to the census, especially if they are worried about their immigration status or have language/access barriers. One could also argue that minorities need stronger representation than is indicated by the proportion of people in the country. BME groups tend to be disadvantaged in society and so may need stronger representation than the white population. Perhaps it would be better for 20% to 30% of MEPs to be from BME groups, or even more?

A similar analysis has been done for the House of Commons, by Steve Browning, a researcher at the House of Commons Library. His full report can be found here. Interestingly, representation seems a little worse in the Commons than in MEPs, and varies quite considerably by party (according to 2017 figures, see pg.8) from 6% in the Conservative Party, to 12% in the Labour Party. The 2019 analysis is not included, although the data is there. I may have a look at it for my next post!