SDLP and Alliance voice confidence at unseating DUP MP in South Belfast
SDLP MLA Claire Hanna has said she will lead a "broad coalition of Remain voices" if elected as the next MP for South Belfast.
Ms Hanna was speaking last night as she was selected as her party's Westminster candidate in the constituency after Dr Alasdair McDonnell stepped aside.
She rounded on DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly for "pursuing a hard Brexit strategy" and for supporting Parliament's suspension.
The SDLP believes it can win the seat, given that South Belfast recorded a 70% Remain vote in the Brexit referendum.
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw was also selected as her party's candidate and both women are vying to present themselves as the main challenger to Ms Little Pengelly.
The SDLP was runner-up to the DUP in 2017. Dr McDonnell was 2,000 votes behind Ms Little Pengelly, with Alliance a further 3,000 votes behind.
Ms Hanna last night said the election would be "one of the most important polls since the Good Friday Agreement".
She said: "I've lived in South Belfast for 35 years and represented it for eight. I am acutely aware of the damage a reckless no-deal Brexit would cause.
"For the last two years, our vibrant pro-European community has been represented by an MP who is pursuing a hard Brexit strategy, including supporting the suspension of Parliament at a time when our voices need to be heard most.
"I am delighted that SDLP members in South Belfast have endorsed me as the person to lead that broad coalition of Remain voices and to gain the confidence of people of all backgrounds in this area."
Announcing his withdrawal from the race to be his party's candidate, Dr McDonnell said he fully supported Ms Hanna's bid and she would make "a fine MP".
The man who held the seat for 12 years called on "smaller parties" to stand aside in South and East Belfast, and in North Down, in favour of a single Remain candidate.
Speaking after her selection, Ms Bradshaw said the Alliance Party had been "over 2,000 votes clear of any other Remain party" in South Belfast in the council elections.
"Naomi Long's victory at the subsequent EU election further demonstrated that we are best placed to build the necessary support across the whole constituency to unseat the DUP," she added.
Ms Bradshaw said it must not be "a tired old nationalist versus unionist election".
She added: "South Belfast is an overwhelmingly Remain constituency, which is why it swung so heavily behind Alliance at the European elections. The choice before the public is simple. If they simply do the same thing they did in May and vote Alliance, they will elect a united community Remain MP representative of the whole constituency."