Belfast Telegraph

General Election: SDLP 'not interested in doing electoral pacts'

By Noel McAdam

The SDLP has ruled out an election pact with Sinn Fein or any other party despite holding discussions about a possible anti-Brexit alliance.

Leader Colum Eastwood insisted a formal election deal was not on the agenda.

"We won't do an electoral pact with other parties to keep out one community. That is not what we are about," he said.

A statement to the Belfast Telegraph added: "The SDLP doesn't do sectarian pacts. We're not interested in any arrangement designed to keep one community out."

But the SDLP denied it was sending out "mixed messages" in saying it was open to discussions about maximising an anti-Brexit vote in the June 8 poll.

Mr Eastwood said a majority of pro-Brexit MPs cannot be sent to Westminster.

The SDLP has met with Sinn Fein and the Green Party to discuss an anti-Brexit alliance, and Mr Eastwood said he hoped to discuss the issue with Alliance leader Naomi Long. "We have the longest and strongest pro-European record of any party," a spokesman said.

"So the party is open to discussions with other candidates and parties about how we can maximise the pro-Europe vote and tackle pro-Brexit MPs.

"We'll be having discussions internally about how best to do that in the time ahead."

The party's clarification came after speculation that Mr Eastwood could prove more amenable to a pact than his predecessor Alasdair McDonnell and other previous SDLP leaders.

The possibility of a nationalist pact appeared to be heightened after it emerged Mr Eastwood met Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill, which was later described as "routine".

The SDLP is facing serious challenges to hold onto its three seats in South Down, South Belfast and Foyle, while Sinn Fein also has its sights on winning back Fermanagh-South Tyrone and perhaps toppling DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds in North Belfast.

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionists and the DUP have yet to organise a first formal meeting to discuss pacts. A source said a time and date had not been agreed but the meeting should happen "in the next few days".

DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday said that a focus of the inter-party talks will be her Fermanagh-South Tyrone constituency.

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