Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Why maximising the Remain vote and giving DUP a bloody nose are clear priorities for this election

The centre-ground must sacrifice its own narrow ambitions if we're to put hard Brexiteers to flight, says Alban Maginness

Independent unionist Lady Hermon
Independent unionist Lady Hermon
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has said that this election is about health, education and the environment. He is very wrong. In this election there is only one issue and that is Brexit. Be in no doubt, this is the most critical election in our lifetime, for its result will redefine our political and economic future.

In this general election here in Northern Ireland there are some serious opportunities for the Remain parties - that is Alliance, Greens, SDLP and Sinn Fein - to maximise the Remain vote and to defeat sitting DUP MPs.

They are the constituencies of East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast and South Antrim, and also in North Down, where Lady Sylvia Hermon's seat is vulnerable to a DUP onslaught.

Her seat should be protected by all the pro-Remain parties unilaterally withdrawing to allow her to fight the seat alone.

While the recent voluntary withdrawal of the SDLP and Sinn Fein may not have much effect, nonetheless those potential extra votes for Lady Hermon could make a significant difference in a tight contest.

But a really huge difference would be made by the Alliance Party and the Greens unilaterally withdrawing, thereby allowing their supporters to vote for Hermon.

But it is a big sacrifice to ask of the Alliance Party and the Greens, who have made big advances in North Down.

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In South Antrim there is a case to support Danny Kinahan, who is 3,000 votes short of the DUP's Paul Girvan.

Kinahan is a moderate unionist voice who can challenge the hard Brexiteering of the DUP.

This seat has swung between the UUP and the DUP over the past three elections. The unilateral standing-down of the SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Fein would greatly help Danny Kinahan to regain this seat from the DUP.

In South Belfast Emma Little-Pengelly's 2,000 majority is vulnerable to the SDLP's Claire Hanna, if she was given a free run.

Already Sinn Fein and the Greens have voluntarily stood down in favour of Claire Hanna, leaving the Alliance Party as the only other party left to divide the pro-Remain vote in this most diverse of Belfast constituencies.

It is a big ask of the Alliance Party, but in these unique circumstances it should withdraw in the interests of sending a strong pro-Remain voice to Westminster to represent South Belfast, a constituency that voted 69% to Remain in 2016.

Of all the pro-Remain candidates, Claire Hanna is the one who stands out as the most articulate and effective spokesperson for the Remain side.

In North Belfast the SDLP have already withdrawn from the contest, thereby allowing Sinn Fein's John Finucane a better opportunity of defeating the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who has led the DUP's destructive struggle in Parliament in favour of a damaging Brexit.

It was Nigel Dodds who led that party to vote three times against Theresa May's withdrawal agreement and it was he who strongly opposed Boris Johnson's deal, one that could do much to mitigate the negative impact of Brexit on this region.

Given the destructive and foolish position he is responsible for creating - not just for the DUP, but all the people of this region - his parliamentary career should be, rightly, ended in the tragedy of defeat, to paraphrase that Conservative icon Enoch Powell.

In East Belfast the withdrawal of Sinn Fein and the SDLP will undoubtedly help Naomi Long, the Alliance Party leader, to win back this seat from the DUP's Gavin Robinson. That, combined with tactical votes from pro-Remain unionists and a withdrawal by the Greens, could bring Naomi Long a sweet and deserved victory.

This is Naomi Long's stronghold and it is a constituency that saw the Alliance Party make dramatic in-roads in the last council elections.

It would be a missed opportunity if pro-Remain parties did not support Alliance in order to maximise the Remain vote.

These are tough decisions for all those parties involved, but advancing the Remain position should be paramount.

The fewer DUP MPs elected means the less damaging influence they would have over a potential Tory or Labour Government. This would mean a less-damaging Brexit, or even no Brexit at all.

While Boris has succeeded in negotiating a reasonable Brexit deal, which is particularly favourable for our local economy, it has yet to pass through the House of Commons and become law. And, as it is said: "There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip."

Therefore we enter a period of electoral uncertainty and danger and, that being so, there is a need to minimise the hard Brexiteering of Sammy Wilson and Nigel Dodds by maximising the election of as many pro-Remain MPs as possible from pro-Remain Northern Ireland.

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