A new Remain pact shows anger at the DUP—and concern over Brexit's impact in Northern Ireland—has reached new heightsby Siobhán Fenton / November 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
In Northern Ireland, election results can often seem like a foregone conclusion before the first pen strikes the first ballot paper. As the region’s constitutional status is highly contested, many people will vote purely based on the question of whether they support Northern Ireland remaining in the UK or joining a united Ireland. While many other political issues and spats may be raised over the course of an election campaign, when it comes down to the moment the voter reaches for the pen alone in the polling booth it is this which tends to prevail.
That appears, however, to be rapidly changing. As Northern Ireland’s parties crank into election mode ahead of the 12 December poll, a new approach to electioneering is being created in response to the urgent threat of Brexit and the unique risks it poses to the region.
Last week, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) announced that they would stand aside for each other in a number of key seats, in order to maximise the number of seats which could return a unionist MP. The parties have entered pacts previously in the two most recent Westminster elections, as the unionist vote throughout Northern Ireland has waned and the parties have sought to halt the increasing rise of Sinn Féin as a Westminster electoral force.
Therefore, when the parties announced that the UUP would not stand in North Belfast and the DUP would not stand in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, few were surprised. North Belfast is currently held by DUP MP Nigel Dodds, with Sinn Féin candidate John Finucane just under two thousand votes behind him.
Similarly, Fermanagh and South Tyrone is one of the UK’s most keenly-fought marginals, with Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew holding the seat with just 875 votes over the UUP’s Tom Elliott. Therefore, the pact among unionists was the most logical decision to maximise the number of seats they could share.
However, what the unionist parties did not expect was for an alternate pact to be set up in response. Unlike their unionist counterparts, nationalists have staunchly rejected the prospect of pacts. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a centre-left…