Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: Divisive poll on cards as Northern Ireland parties gear up for General Election

Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Battlelines have been drawn between Northern Ireland’s politicians after the House of Commons last night voted to hold a General Election on December 12.

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The first December election for almost 100 years and the third one this decade means voters here will go to the polls in six weeks’ time for the eighth occasion since 2015.

A fresh election against a backdrop of huge political instability and the continued absence of the Stormont Assembly threatens to further divide the local  parties with Brexit set to dominate the campaign.

There are 18 Westminster constituencies in Northern Ireland, meaning 18 seats out of 650 in the Commons are up for grabs.

Currently the DUP holds 10 seats, Sinn Fein has seven, while independent unionist MP Lady Hermon holds North Down.

The Commons voted by 438 to 20 at third reading to approve the one-page Bill enabling the election to be held on December 12.

DUP MPs voted in favour of the date. Lady Hermon voted against it.

Earlier, MPs voted by 315 to 295 to reject a Labour amendment for the proposed polling day to be moved to December 9 — three days earlier than ministers wanted.

The parties here were quick out of the starting blocks following the vote.

DUP leader Arlene Foster welcomed the election being held on December 12 and said it is “right that the people of Northern Ireland have their say through the ballot box”.

Colum Eastwood
Colum Eastwood

Mrs Foster added: “The DUP will use this opportunity to campaign strongly to send a message that Northern Ireland is better in the Union of the United Kingdom and we cannot be separated economically from Great Britain.

“We have a record of speaking up for Northern Ireland in Westminster and delivering for everyone in Northern Ireland.

At a time of great uncertainty as to who will form the next Government, Northern Ireland votes will matter as never before. Arlene Foster

“Unionists need their strongest team returned so that Northern Ireland’s interests are protected in the next Parliament. That team is the DUP.

“This election will matter and we will be campaigning for every vote as we take our message to the people.”

Incoming Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken, who has attracted criticism by ruling out his party stepping aside in certain constituencies — including North Belfast — to allow DUP candidates a clear run, said Northern Ireland needs to elect UUP MPs who will stand against the Prime Minister’s plans, which will destroy the Union.

Lady Sylvia Hermon
Lady Sylvia Hermon

He said: “This is the most important election the people of the United Kingdom have ever faced.

“Boris Johnson’s deal with the EU is an existential threat to the Union. It puts a border in the Irish Sea and places Northern Ireland on the window ledge of the Union.

“This election will be an opportunity to send Ulster Unionist MPs to Westminster who will not be patsies to a Tory Government or ever agree to a border down the Irish Sea.

“Northern Ireland has been betrayed by Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government and we need to send a clear message to him and his advisers that we will not sit back and let him destroy the Union.”

Sinn Fein has already selected a number of candidates to contest the long-expected Westminster election, including Belfast Lord Mayor John Finucane to challenge DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds’ slim majority in North Belfast.

The party’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill said the vote was an opportunity for people “to have their say on the looming disaster of Brexit”.

It is a chance to reject the DUP and the Tories, to reject Brexit and the Westminster chaos and its destructive influence on the north of Ireland. Michelle O’Neill

“Sinn Fein has successfully made the case to the Irish Government and Europe that the north’s special circumstances needed to be recognised to protect our economy against the Brexit catastrophe, to avoid any hardening of the border and to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

“The DUP have ignored the democratic wishes of the people of the north, of business, of farmers, of retailers.

“The people of the north did not consent to Brexit.

“There is no good Brexit for Ireland. Westminster is in chaos. It has no answers and no solutions. The Brexit debacle has shown that Westminster cannot, has not and will never act in the interests of the people of the north.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the election will be a defining moment for Brexit and every opportunity to defend the interests of people, businesses and communities must be taken.

He said: “For three years the democratic decision taken by people in Northern Ireland to reject a border on this island, to maintain the free and frictionless relationship we enjoy with Europe and to sustain our fragile peace has been wilfully ignored by successive Conservative Governments and by the DUP. The coming election is an opportunity to reject the politics of division and deadlock.

“This island’s destiny is being decided at Westminster. Like it or not, the only way to prevent the kind of outcome that would devastate our communities is to show up and vote it down.

“Our MPs have, with the exception of Sylvia Hermon, either facilitated this disaster or stood outside on the lawn shouting in.

“They have failed to defend our interests. It’s time to give the electorate a chance to cast their verdict on that failure.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long said her party is best placed to unite Remain voices here. “This election will be mainly focused around Brexit and Alliance has always been clear there is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit,” she said.

“Therefore it will be an opportunity for people to have their say and elect MPs who want to avoid a hard border, protect the Good Friday Agreement and attend Westminster to represent their interests.

“Northern Ireland voted to Remain. If people vote for Alliance candidates, we can increase the representation of progressive, pro-Remain MPs and articulate that voice loudly at Westminster.”

A TUV spokesman said: “It has been clear for sometime that this Parliament was incapable of delivering anything. The election is long overdue.

"The Prime Minister says that he will be fighting on the basis of getting “Brexit done” but in support of an agreement which is not Brexit for the whole UK, but only for GB. It would leave Northern Ireland in the waiting room for a united Ireland, with the Union riven by a border down the Irish Sea."

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