Belfast Telegraph

SDLP leader Eastwood confirms he will stand for European election saying 'Brexit can be cancelled'

Colum Eastwood
Colum Eastwood
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Colum Eastwood has confirmed he will stand in the forthcoming European elections, as the Belfast Telegraph revealed this week.

Explaining his decision he said it was a "unique election".

"This is our people's vote," he told the BBC, "we have now a very clear opportunity to send a very clear message to the people of London and Brussels that the people of Northern Ireland do not want to leave the European Union and at the very least protected  from a hard border."

He said he didn't expect to be standing and if it was a "normal election" he would not be throwing his hat in the ring. He admitted Claire Hanna - who resigned her party positions over the Fianna Fail link up - and Mark Durkan who is standing in the Republic for Fine Gael "would have been fantastic candidates," but he felt the urge to step up and put his name on the ballot.

He added: "There was a clear message coming back from the party that they wanted me to run. There was a very strong view developed very early on it should be me and I am glad to take it up. Leaders have to lead and there is a major battle here and it is not an easy battle for us but we are best placed for it."

He said the election would be a "referendum on Brexit".

"In all of this process there is a real chance of cancelling Brexit."

He said the "electoral maths" of Northern Ireland meant the last seat, held by the UUP, was "up for grabs" given how they were close to winning the seat in the last poll.

"It is very important we don't send two leavers to the EU."

Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson and the DUP's Diane Dodds are on course to take the first two seats with former UUP MLA Danny Kennedy replacing sitting MEP Jim Nicholson as his party's candidate. Mr Kennedy will be favourite to retain the seat but the party needs a strong performance in the council election three weeks earlier.

The SDLP polled 82,000 votes in the 2014 poll, significantly ahead of Alliance. Alliance leader Naomi Long is expected to confirm her candidacy for the election later on Thursday.

"I don't know how that will work," continued Mr Eastwood.

"Naomi is hard working and very popular but Alliance will have to more than double their vote to be even where near the contest and I don't think that is realistic. It just doesn't happen. The SDLP is in poll position to take that third seat."

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