General Election: DUP sidelined as Boris Johnson set for Tory landslide
DUP looks to Stormont as it faces Westminster on sidelines
The DUP’s days of influence at Westminster appear over with Boris Johnson leading the Conservatives to a landslide election victory.
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Mr Johnson was set to return to Downing Street with an 86-seat majority, an exit poll predicted.
It is likely to focus the DUP on reaching a deal with Sinn Fein to restore devolution with talks set to begin on Monday.
As the forecast of a landslide Tory victory was revealed, the counting of ballots continued across Northern Ireland with reports of a significantly higher turnout in key constituencies.
In North Belfast, turnout appeared up in nationalist districts and particularly in loyalist working-class parts of the constituency including Rathcoole, which was crucial for the DUP.
The BBC-ITV-Sky exit poll put the Conservatives on 368 seats, 42 above the 326 needed for an absolute majority in the Commons.
Labour is predicted to win just 191 seats, the Scottish National Party 55, Liberal Democrats 13, the Brexit Party none, Plaid Cymru three and the Greens one.
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The comfortable Tory majority indicates strong support in Britain for getting Brexit done. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation is expected as the party comes to terms with a disastrous election.
But the DUP’s dream of holding the balance of power was shattered, allowing Mr Johnson to easily drive through his Brexit deal.
The UK is now set to leave the EU next month with an agreement loyalists see as a betrayal which undermines the Union.
Party leader Arlene Foster appeared to acknowledge that the DUP will no longer be key in Brexit votes in the next Parliament.
“For two years the DUP held the balance of power. We used that influence to leave a lasting legacy through a £1.5bn investment in schools, hospitals, roads and broadband,” she said.
“Whilst it looks like a Conservative majority, there will undoubtedly be rebellions and at those times our MPs will continue to have influence over the next term.
“The clear message from Northern Ireland voters was to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and get Stormont restored. I suspect the results will reflect this.”
Mrs Foster said her party’s priority was to see the Stormont institutions restored: "The message on the doors was the re-establishment of the Executive and Assembly. Talks start on Monday morning. We will be there."
We must now work together to get ministers in place and get decisions made for everyone. The DUP has been ready to appoint ministers since March 2017. We can’t do it on our own. It’s time for the boycotts to end. Arlene Foster
Speaking on the BBC, Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin said his party was committed to the fresh round of negotiations.
“If the DUP focus less on the hard Brexit politics of Westminster, and more on working together with the rest of us to try and serve the common interest here, I think we could have a result,” he said.
Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said his party had shown its positive attitude in previous talks with the DUP and it would maintain the same constructive attitude in next week’s dialogue.
Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill thanked everyone who voted.
“This is a hugely important election and everyone we engaged with on the doorsteps during the campaign responded positively to the Sinn Fein message,” she said.
"Whatever the results, Sinn Fein will be in the talks on Monday morning to work to secure a genuine power-sharing Executive which is credible and sustainable to deliver good government and properly resourced public services to all.
“Sinn Fein will continue to represent people where it matters and stand up against Brexit.”
Mr Johnson’s gamble on a snap election which paid off so handsomely has catapulted him into a very strong position with the new set of Tory backbenchers.
The pound soared against the dollar and the euro as the exit poll emerged.
The Prime Minister greeted the poll by tweeting: “Thank you to everyone across our great country who voted, who volunteered, who stood as candidates. We live in the greatest democracy in the world.”
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 12, 2019
Thank you to everyone across our great country who voted, who volunteered, who stood as candidates. We live in the greatest democracy in the world. pic.twitter.com/1MuEMXqWHq
The suggested result is the largest majority for a Tory leader since Margaret Thatcher in the 1980.
He entered the election without a majority — having just 298 Tory MPs — after some quit the party and he withdrew the whip from others when they rebelled over Brexit.
But DUP MP Sammy Wilson insisted his party will continue to oppose the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.
“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,” he said. “If Europe digs its heels in and says they are not prepared to give us access to their markets without paying… its during the next year where I think we can still bring influence there.
“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.”
With the Conservative’s projected majority, former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt warned it is English nationalism which unionists should be wary of.
He told the BBC: “I think the great irony of all of this is that for decades unionists have looked over their shoulders and decided that Irish nationalists were the great threat,” he said.
Mr Nesbitt added: “Then more recently it was Scottish nationalists, but actually it’s English nationalism which is posing the existential threat to the future of the union.”
As the counting of votes continued into the early hours this morning, several Northern Ireland seats were on a knife-edge.
Senior sources in Sinn Fein conceded that they were likely to lose their Foyle constituency seat to the SDLP.
It was predicted to be a tight race between Elisha McCallion and Colum Eastwood, however one source said many in the party had accepted that Ms McCallion will not be returned.