The move towards Remain candidates doesn't only show a shift from Northern Ireland's traditional constitutional voter split. It could also have big implications for the backstopby Siobhán Fenton / May 28, 2019 / Leave a comment
In keeping with the scant attention Northern Ireland received in the lead up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, the recent EU parliament election results have largely slipped by unnoticed in British political discourse. Yet the results could have a significant bearing on the future of viability of Brexit.
Northern Ireland is a single constituency for the EU, electing 3 MEPs. Traditionally, two of the three seats have been won by unionists while the other one tends to go to a nationalist.
Following the 2014 election, the three seats were won by Sinn Féin (pro-Remain), the DUP (pro-Brexit) and the UUP (who have a confusing and amorphous position on Brexit, having initially supported Remain half-heartedly but now engaging in pro-Brexit rhetoric).
This has meant the region has sent one pro-Remain and two largely pro-Brexit voices to Brussels throughout most of the Brexit process so far.
However, with this week’s results, the balance of power has shifted. This week two of the seats were returned comfortably to Sinn Féin and the DUP, as had been expected. But the UUP’s seat was emphatically lost as their vote share plummeted from just over 83,000 first preference votes to a mere 53,000.
Instead, the seat went to the cross-community Alliance party, whose leader Naomi Long saw their first preference votes soar from 44,000 in 2014 to almost 106,000.
Crucially, Long ran her campaign on a ticket that was passionately pro-Remain and staunchly in favour of the backstop. Among her core policies is a demand for a people’s vote or a second referendum.
Paired with Sinn Féin’s hardline anti-Brexit politics, the pro-EU voices for Northern Ireland in Brussels now outnumber the DUP by 2:1. This strengthens the EU’s ability to refuse to re-open any talks about the backstop, as they can cite this result as proof of local support in Northern Ireland in the event of the next British Prime Minister seeking to renegotiate it.
No Change, no Brexit party
It is also significant that neither the Brexit party nor Change UK decided to field candidates in the Northern Ireland constituency.
Considering much of the current Brexit impasse centres on passionate proclamations at Westminster that Northern Ireland cannot be treated differently to the rest of the…