Belfast Telegraph

General Election: Arlene Foster, Colum Eastwood, Michelle O'Neill, Robin Swann, Naomi Long, Gerry Adams react to Theresa May's snap poll

By Claire Williamson

Theresa May's call for a General Election in the midst of the Stormont crisis talks has shown "disdain" for Northern Ireland, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said.

Theresa May has called an early general election for June 8 in an announcement which has stunned Westminster. The Prime Minister had repeatedly denied that she would call an election before the next scheduled poll in 2020.

Read more: What does Theresa May's snap General Election mean for Northern Ireland in the midst of the Stormont crisis?

Read more: Theresa May announces General Election: Statement in full

But following a Cabinet meeting at Downing Street she said she would go to the country this year.

There will be a Commons vote on the proposed election on Wednesday.

Justifying the decision, Mrs May said: "The country is coming together but Westminster is not."

It comes as Northern Ireland's political parties are set to resume crisis talks aimed at forming a power sharing government.

The parties missed the deadline in forming a government within the six weeks after the election.

Northern Ireland's political leaders have been reacting to the Prime Minister's call.

Meanwhile SDLP leader Colum Eastwood questioned the Prime Minister's decision to call the election during the Stormont talks.

He said: "It tells you all you need to know about Theresa May that she would call a snap Westminster election in the middle of intense efforts to restore power sharing government to Northern Ireland.

"From the beginning of her tenure as British Prime Minister she has shown very little but disinterest and disdain for this place.

“As Theresa May seeks a mandate for a hard Brexit from an English electorate, people here have an opportunity to unite behind parties which have defended their will and sought to protect our values.  

“England may want to isolate itself from Europe and the world. But people in Northern Ireland and Scotland made a different choice. A choice that cannot be fulfilled through a hard Brexit. We now have an opportunity to strengthen the mandate of parties which campaigned against and consistently voted against Brexit at Westminster.

“I know people are suffering from electoral fatigue. But this is not a time to sit on the sidelines. This is a moment to unite to deliver a strong message to Theresa May and the Brexiteers. Our voice will be heard.” ​

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the vote was an opportunity to "vote for the Union".

Mrs Foster said: "The Prime Minister’s decision to go to Parliament to seek a General Election on 8th June provides the people of Northern Ireland with the opportunity to vote for the Union.

Stormont election results 2017  - select a constituency - North Antrim - East Antrim - South Antrim - North Belfast - East Belfast - South Belfast - West Belfast - Strangford - South Down - Lagan Valley - Upper Bann - Newry and Armagh - Fermanagh & South Tyrone - West Tyrone - Mid Ulster - East Londonderry - Foyle - North Down

"The Democratic Unionist Party has been a strong voice for Northern Ireland at Westminster and we have used the mandate given to us to ensure the interests of Northern Ireland are to the fore.

"The forthcoming election will be an opportunity for unionists to unite around a strong Democratic Unionist Party that will advocate for them in Parliament."   

Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill said the election was an opportunity to "oppose Brexit".

She said: "Sinn Fein opposed Brexit because it will be disastrous for the people of Ireland, our economy and our public services.

"The people of the North clearly voted to see their future in the European Union in the referendum last June. We have been blatantly ignored by Theresa May since.

“The Tory party’s reckless Brexit agenda offers nothing to the people of the North who are being dragged out of the EU against our will.

“The Tory party and their polices have been rejected by the people in the north in the past, and will be again in this election.

"Sinn Fein is ready to contest this election and it will be an opportunity for voters to oppose Brexit and reject Tory cuts and austerity.

“It is an opportunity to progress designated status for the North within the EU and for a future based on equality, respect, integrity and unity.”

UUP leader Robin Swann said the election will be about "strengthening the hand of the United Kingdom in forthcoming Brexit negotiations".

He said: "NI needs strong representation in Westminster now more than ever, arguing the best case for Northern Ireland.

“Tom Elliott & Danny Kinahan have proven that Ulster Unionist MPs can be that positive, pragmatic voice for Northern Ireland.

“Following the March election I would encourage everyone to ensure they are registered to vote and that if necessary they secure postal and proxy votes for the 8th of June to ensure their voice is heard at the ballot box.”

Alliance party leader Naomi Long said it would be "disgraceful" for any party to use the General Election to stall the current talks process.

She said: "Alliance will be contesting this election on a platform of providing good government and opposing a hard Brexit, while seeking a special deal to address the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. Theresa May has made it clear she wants to ram a hard Brexit through Parliament irrespective of how bad the deal on offer from the EU may be.

"The strongest possible vote to the contrary is required to minimise the long-term economic damage to the UK as a whole and to protect the interests of Northern Ireland.

“In terms of Northern Ireland, Alliance only lost the 2015 election due to a five-party unionist pact in East Belfast. Only weeks ago, Robin Swann was elected as UUP leader and made a pledge his party would be different to the DUP. Now he faces the challenge to prove that and not slide back into an undemocratic agreement with other parties. The decision he takes will either make or break his party.

“This election coincides with a critical time in our local politics. The current vacuum is not sustainable, it is already doing massive damage to our economy and our public services. It would be disgraceful for any party to use this election and the hope of short-term electoral gain to stall or withdraw the current talks process.

“However, the chances of a deal this side of June 8 have now become more remote. Despite this, the people of Northern Ireland have already given MLAs a clear instruction to do their job and to act responsibly through putting in place progressive and sustainable devolution.”

Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said the timing of the General Election posed "significant challenges".

He said: "The timing of this General Election poses a significant challenge to the current talks on restoring devolution. Retail NI and the business community as a whole, want to see these talks reach a successful conclusion and for the Assembly and Executive to be restored”

"Political stability is the essential basis for economic growth”

"The focus of this election should be on Policy and what type of Brexit is best for Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole. Setting out a new vision for the future of the our local economy should be the central issue in this election for political parties, locally and nationally."

What happens now?

The Prime Minister will table a Commons motion on Wednesday calling for an election to be held on Thursday June 8.

Under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, passed under the last coalition government, she needs a two-thirds majority if she wants to go to the country before the scheduled date of the next the election which had been due to take place in May 2020.

With both Labour and the Liberal Democrats saying they will support the motion, the outcome should be a formality.

What comes after that?

There will be a short "wash-up" period to clear up outstanding legislation such as the Finance Bill to enable the funding of government to carry on.

Parliament will then be dissolved on Wednesday May 3, 25 working days before polling, marking the start of the official campaign.

And then?

If all goes to plan voters will go to the polling booths on June 8 with the outcome likely to become clear in the early hours of the next morning.

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