Belfast Telegraph

SDLP's McDonnell denies self-preservation motive for 'no' vote

By Adrian Rutherford

A Northern Ireland MP has denied that he voted against the Prime Minister's call for a snap election to save his seat.

The UK will go to the polls on June 8 after MPs cleared the way for an early election.

Theresa May easily passed the hurdle needed under the Fixed Term Parliament Act to bring the poll forward from the scheduled date of 2020.

The Prime Minister needed the backing of 434 MPs - two-thirds of the House of Commons - with 522 voting in support.

Former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell was one of just 13 who voted against, as did North Down MP Lady Hermon.

Mr McDonnell held his South Belfast seat at the last election with a majority of 906.

He would be vulnerable if -as has been mooted - a unionist pact is agreed.

But Mr McDonnell insisted this was "certainly not" a factor in his decision.

"I feel the election is a cynical exercise by Theresa May just to drum up a big majority for a hard Brexit, and a hard Brexit is not in the interests of Northern Ireland," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I have a constituency that voted 70% to remain (in the EU referendum), and they are still haranguing me about Remain."

Lady Hermon, meanwhile, said it was "a totally unnecessary" election.

She said: "The Prime Minister already has a majority in the House of Commons. And she has already won every vote about Brexit with a comfortable majority. So, what is this election really about? It's about the PM making sure her Government has an iron grip on all policies, not just the Brexit negotiations, for the next five years. I refuse to give the PM that mandate."

Last night Mrs May hit the campaign trail in Bolton, having urged voters to give her a "mandate to fight for Britain".

The Prime Minister made her first stump speech of the seven- week campaign just hours after the Commons vote.

It is a clear sign of her intent to raid Brexit heartlands held by Labour. Bolton North East is held by Labour with a 4,000 majority - potentially vulnerable given the Conservatives' big lead.

There was never any real doubt about Mrs May securing the backing needed to go to the country, with both Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat Tim Farron saying they welcomed the election - though Scottish National Party MPs abstained in the vote.

Telling MPs it was time to "put our fate in the hands of the people and let the people decide", Mrs May told a packed House of Commons: "We are determined to bring stability to the United Kingdom for the long-term and that's what this election will be about - leadership and stability. The decision facing the country will be clear. I will be campaigning for strong and stable leadership in the national interest with me as Prime Minister and I will be asking for the public's support to continue to deliver my plan for a stronger Britain, to lead the country for the next five years and to give the certainty and stability that we need."

But Mr Corbyn dismissed her argument that she needs a fresh mandate to deliver Brexit.

He said Mrs May's U-turn on her previous insistence that she would not call a snap election showed she could not be trusted.

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