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Victorious Shannon says Sinn Fein fears and issue of Brexit brought voters out

By Brett Campbell

Jim Shannon insisted the general election boiled down to Brexit and concerns over a Sinn Fein surge after comfortably holding his Strangford seat.

The veteran DUP politician saw off closest rival, Kellie Armstrong of the Alliance Party, by a massive majority of 18,343 votes.

"I think the people have spoken in a very clear way," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We had a clear message on Brexit from a constituency that already decided to leave the European Union, so from that point of view things are moving on, but gains made by Sinn Fein three months ago scared people.

"Those who in the past have not voted decided this time they were voting."

Mr Shannon, who was first elected to Westminster in 2010, polled 24,036 votes, and also saw off the former Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt, who came third with 4,419 votes.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee member said he has already reached out to the agri-food sector in Strangford to ensure that he can help achieve the best Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.

"I need to know what their concerns are and I will reflect those concerns in the negotiation process. A key concern of course is the border question," he continued.

"Businesses need to know that they can move goods across the border simply and easily and that lorries won't be caught sitting still for hours.

"I think a simplified soft border is possible."

Although she finished a distant second, Ms Armstrong hailed her 5,693 votes as a "fantastic" triumph for Alliance.

"We have gone from being first elected to the Assembly to coming second in a Westminster Election," she said.

"It was a fantastic result by Jim Shannon - I won't take that away from him - but we took nearly 15% of the vote and I will be pushing Jim to tell us what exactly Brexit looks like.

"I want the best deal and a vote on the negotiated outcome."

Ms Armstrong, who was the first MLA elected to the Assembly back in March, said her party is excited about building on their success in the DUP stronghold but said their immediate priority is restoring the Northern Ireland Executive.

"We can't do this anymore, so we expect to be sitting in the room with the other parties on Monday morning," she said.

"If the big parties decide that the polarised state of politics across the water is a ticket for direct rule or a border poll then that's going to hurt everyone."

Mr Nesbitt described the Strangford result as "unsurprising" as he congratulated Mr Shannon on his "perfect hat-trick."

"I felt it was important that the people of Strangford had the choice to vote for an Ulster Unionist, but the mood of the country has gravitated towards the DUP and Sinn Fein," he added.

"Jim Shannon is almost a brand in his own right and has been on the ground for 30 years - you cannot compete with that.

"You would be hard pressed to find a street in Strangford where someone has not benefited from Jim's intervention and that is rewarded with votes, as it should be."

Joe Boyle, the SDLP candidate, polled 2,404 votes, with Carole Murphy of Sinn Fein securing 1,083 votes.

The other candidates, Ricky Bamford of the Green Party and Claire Hiscott of the Conservatives, polled 607 votes and 507 votes respectively.

Turnout was 60.36% - up from 52.8% at the 2015 General Election.

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