Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

East Antrim: Alliance surge and Aiken falters as Sammy Wilson retains seat

  • Eligible electorate: 64,830
  • Votes polled: 37,431
  • Valid votes: 37,261
  • Turnout: 57.74%
  • Majority: 6,706

By John Mulgrew

A very hoarse Sammy Wilson told those gathered in Belfast that he would fight for the UK to leave the EU as one, with Northern Ireland, while saying direct rule should remain an option if an Assembly cannot be restored.

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But while the DUP man was once again victorious in East Antrim – a constituency he’s been synonymous with since 2005 – his majority was squeezed this time around.

He took the seat with a strong majority of more than 6,000, and said he and the DUP would be fighting for a re-negotiated deal on Brexit.

“I pledge in the forthcoming session of Parliament, we will do our best to restore the Assembly so that decisions can be made,” he said.

“If Sinn Fein’s intransigence in locking the doors of Stormont to stop good things happening (continues), then we say to the British Government, either bring in direct rule or change the rules to keep the shirkers out and the workers in.

“We will work to see that the voice of the people of the UK, to leave the EU, and to reap the benefits of being outside of the EU, are delivered for the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland.”

Taking on newly elected Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken, the former submariner, Mr Wilson may have been facing one of his strongest unionist opponents in a seat he has held for 15 years.

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UUP leader Steve Aiken pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Sammy unseated the former Roy Beggs – the former Ulster Unionist incumbent – in 2005, and has seen his share of vote rocket until this election.

But it was the success of Alliance’s Danny Donnelly – almost doubling on the results of the party in the previous election when it stood party stalwart Stewart Dickson – that showed where some of Mr Wilson’s votes had gone, this time around. Steve Aiken managed just over 5,400 votes on the night.

It appears some of Mr Wilson’s Brexit-related rhetoric, often flying in the face of business, may have had an impact on his majority. In the Belfast count centre, despite the vote falling, his was the only victory for the DUP on the night, otherwise dominated by the loss of two of its Belfast seats.

As the exit polls were published and the large Conservative majority became a reality, Mr Wilson stood firm on his party’s position opposing the Brexit deal which Boris Johnson negotiated with the EU.

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Sammy Wilson at the General Election count at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

“He has to now go back to Europe to negotiate the future relationships and this is going to be fraught with all kinds of problems, if Europe digs its heels in and says they are not prepared to give us access to their markets without paying… it’s during the next year where I think we can still bring influence there,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“This deal is not settled. Even if he gets the bill through, it is the first step. It is getting out but it doesn’t tell us what the future relationship is going to be.”

In his victory speech, he also paid tribute to his former DUP MP colleagues, Nigel Dodds and Emma Pengelly, who both lost their Belfast seats in the early hours of Friday morning.

“They have done sterling work for Northern Ireland… I know that they do have a future for delivering for Northern Ireland.”

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