Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

General Election results: Unionism's post mortem sees Donaldson refuse to back Foster and reach out to UUP

  • Can't afford 'luxury of splintering vote'
  • 'Dodds still has role to play'
  • Aiken says unionism needs to think strategically
The election was a
The election was a "bad night for unionism".
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson refused to back his party leader after a bruising day at the polls.

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He also made an appeal to the UUP for unionist unity saying they could no longer afford the "luxury of splintering the vote" and hand seats to nationalists.

The DUP lost two seats - including Westminster leader's Nigel Dodds - and saw its vote share drop by just over five percent.

It comes off the back of the DUP being at the centre of power at Westminster for the past two years and the party supporting the Conservative government.

"We are still the biggest party... the DUP is still a force," Sir Jeffrey told the BBC.

"The loss of personalities like Nigel Dodds who was a towering figure for us in the House of Commons and Emma Little Pengelly who was an excellent MP for South Belfast is undoubtedly a set back."

Asked about what the result meant for Arlene Foster's leadership, he said he would not speculate on the matter and the party would carry out a detailed post mortem of its results.

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"Arlene will be at Stormont on Monday leading the team to get the Assembly restored that is where our focus is - frankly that is what the people want us to do."

It was put to him that his words were "far from a resounding endorsement" for the party leader.

"You asked me and I gave a clear answer," he hit back.

"Our focus is on getting Stormont back up and running again. That is where Arlene will be on Monday leading those negotiations to try and get the Assembly up and running again."

Mrs Foster rejected any suggestion the vote called into question her leadership.

"If you look at the votes you will find the greater number of people in Northern Ireland still want to remain within the UK.

John Finucane at the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
John Finucane at the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Nigel Dodds during the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
SDLP's Claire Hanna wins a seat in South Belfast at the General Election Count at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast during the Early hours of Friday morning. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Emma Pengelly and Arlene Foster during the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood is elected MP (Niall Carson/PA)
Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion pictured at the count centre in Meadowbank Sports Arena, Magherafelt. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party with party leader Naomi Long after he won the North Down constituency in the UK General Election at the Aurora Aquatic and Leisure Complex, Bangor, Northern Ireland. Michael Cooper/PA Wire
Alex Easton, DUP pictured at the count centre in Bangor. Photo by Brian Little / Press Eye
Gavin Robinson with his wife Lindsey and party leader Arlene Foster pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Naomi Long during the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Michelle O'Neill and Paul Maskey pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Election count at Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast South, Belfast West, Belfast North, East Antrim & South Down. Sammy Wilson pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Steve Aiken pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The DUP’s Gregory Campbell is returned s MP for East Londonderry. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew pictured with Michelle ONeill at the count centre in Omagh after winning the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
UUP Tom Elliott pictured at the count centre in Omagh. Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has held his seat in Lagan Valley pictured at the count centre in Meadowbank Sports Arena, Magherafelt. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Sinn Féin Francie Molloy is returned as MP for Mid Ulster. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Sinn Fein's Mickey Brady(centre) is returned as MP for Newry and Armagh. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
The DUP's Ian Paisley (left) is returned as MP for North Antrim. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th December 2019 General Election 2019 - Election count at Meadowbank Sports Arena, Magherafelt for Newry & Armagh, South Antrim, North Antrim, Upper Bann, East Londonderry, Foyle, Lagan Valley and Mid Ulster. The DUPÕs Paul Girvan(left) is returned as MP for South Antrim. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Chris Hassard, centre, pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th December 2019 - General Election 2019 - Election count at Aurora Leisure Complex, Bangor for Strangford and North Down. Jim Shannon, DUP with his mother Mona and wife Sandra after being elected in Strangford. Photo by Brian LittleÊ / Press Eye
The DUP's Carla Lockhart is returned as MP for Upper Bann and is pictured with her baby boy Charlie. Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Sinn Fein's Orfhlaith Begley pictured after she won her seat back in West Tyrone Photo by Stephen Hamilton / Press Eye.

"That to me is a very important point," she said at the Belfast count centre.

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Emma Pengelly and Arlene Foster during the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The UUP said the General Election results were "a very bad night for unionism".

"There will be further consequences for the Union unless unionism starts to think strategically instead of focusing on short term tactics," said leader Steve Aiken.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the message on the doorsteps over the course of the campaign was that while Brexit was an issue, the Assembly restoration was the focus of the majority. He said the "splintering" of unionist votes was crucial in the final outcome.

"We almost pulled off a victory for unionism in Fermanagh South Tyrone and we did that because unionism came together," he continued.

"I think unionists are fed up to the back teeth of this inter-unionist squabbling and I say sincerely to the Steve Aiken and his colleagues in the UUP seriously can we continue with a situation where we are handing seats on a plate to nationalist representatives?

"We simply can not afford such a luxury any longer if unionism is to continue to have an effective voice."

He added: "On nationalists now outnumbering unionists in the Commons he made an appeal to the SDLP for support in parliament.

"We recognise in Northern Ireland there is a lot of frustration in terms of restoring the executive which has been to the benefit of Alliance," he said.

A bad night for unionism. Steve Aiken

The newly returned Lagan Valley MP said they would continue to try and put across the issues they have with the withdrawal agreement.

On nationalists now outnumbering unionists in the Commons he made an appeal to the SDLP for support in parliament.

"We do have our differences, including on Brexit," he said, "but I think both ourselves and the SDLP agree what is on the table at the moment is potentially very damaging to the NI economy with this idea of a customs border.

"But there is an area we can work together to get a message across to government at Westminster .. that they do need to listen to the voices of Northern Ireland."

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The DUP’s Nigel Dodds is embraced by leader Arlene Foster after losing the Belfast North seat (Liam McBurney/PA)

On Nigel Dodds losing his seat Sir Jeffrey said he hoped he would continue to contribute to Northern Ireland politics.

There was specualtion before the election - which has continued - that he could be drafted in to replace Carla Lockhart in Upper Bann as MLA. She was successful in retaining the Commons seat held by David Simpson.

"I still want to see him continue in a role that would be approiate and would reflect his prominence."

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