Belfast Telegraph

A close run thing, but relieved Lady Hermon insists DUP will never win North Down seat

By Brett Campbell

Lady Hermon vowed North Down will never be a DUP constituency after fighting off Alex Easton to hold onto her Westminster seat, albeit by a much-reduced margin.

She saw her 9,200 majority from 2015 slashed to just 1,208.

But the Independent MP remained defiant, saying: "The DUP will have it in their heads now that one more shove and North Down will be theirs, but I don't think for one moment this will be a DUP constituency."

The former Ulster Unionist, who left the party prior to the 2010 general election, won almost half (49.2%) of votes cast in 2015, but Mr Easton capitalised on a surge in unionist support and a higher turnout to eat into her majority.

"I am relieved," added Lady Hermon.

"When the ballot boxes were opened all I could see was Alex Easton, but a win is a win."

She attributed the swell in DUP support to various factors, including Sinn Fein's success in March's Assembly poll.

"It was an issue that came up on the doorsteps as people said that a vote for me wouldn't stop a border poll, but it's a load of nonsense, because I am a unionist," she added.

The widow of former RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon, Lady Hermon said she had "no intention of going anywhere", and insisted that Brexit "was not an issue on the doorsteps".

"People care about getting the Assembly back up and running, they are angry," she added. She appealed for Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill to put their differences to one side in order to restore devolution.

But she stressed she understood the "Brexit dilemma" will now dominate Parliament.

"Article 50 has been triggered, and from a constitutional point of view that is now a very tricky question," she said.

"The clock is already ticking - we will be out of the EU by 2019.

"Theresa May called this election to strengthen her hand in negotiations, but what do you think the other 27 nations are thinking now that they see her majority demolished? How on Earth do you begin to square that circle?"

Mr Easton, who won the most first preference votes at the Assembly election three months ago, maintained the DUP's momentum by securing the biggest share of the vote that the party has ever taken in North Down.

"I'm over the Moon, absolutely ecstatic," he said. "What I'm good at is working very hard on the ground and that's what I'm going to continue to do. I certainly believe that North Down will soon be a DUP seat."

Mr Easton disputed Lady Hermon's assertion that Brexit wasn't the primary issue in the campaign, but agreed that restoring devolution was a priority among voters. "It was about Brexit, the Union and stopping a border poll," he said.

"People wanted to send out a message that they support the Union, they aren't happy with Sinn Fein, and that message has been sent out loud and clear, but they also want to see, and we want to see, the Assembly up and running, with no red lines."

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