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SDLP's Colum Eastwood 'open to discussions' on Westminster election

SDLP leader Colm Eastwood and party colleagues at Stormont. Picture by Hugh Russell

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said he is open to discussions about advancing an "anti-hard Brexit cause" in the Westminster election amid talk of a possible pact.

Mr Eastwood and Sinn Féin's northern leader Michelle O'Neill met at Stormont yesterday following British prime minister Theresa May's decision to call a snap vote on June 8.

With unionist parties discussing an electoral pact, there has been speculation that those who backed Remain in the EU referendum could forge an 'anti-Brexit' alliance.

Mr Eastwood said they "don't do sectarian pacts", but added: "This is a Brexit election."

The Foyle MLA said: "We will not be involved in any sectarian pact where it's unionist vs nationalist, where it's 'let's keep a unionist out or get a nationalist out'.

"We are open to discussions around how we can protect the interests of Northern Ireland and the majority who voted to remain.

"This is a Brexit election. We're open to discussions about how we advance the anti-hard Brexit cause."

Ms O'Neill said Sinn Féin held meetings yesterday with other party leaders amid ongoing powersharing talks.

"This election is not about orange and green, it is about Brexit and opposition to the Tory party's policies," she said.

"We will stand up for all the people. We will stand up for the needs of the economy and we make the case for designated special status in Europe."

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said he was open to discussions - but said Westminster seats must be taken.

"We'll have a discussion within the party around any 'anti-Brexit' electoral pact," he said.

"In this instance, the starting point for any 'anti-Brexit' pact discussion must be that Westminster seats are taken.

"The issues at play are too important to abstain on and scrutiny must be applied to the future Westminster government."

Northern Ireland backed Remain last June by 56 per cent, but overall 52 per cent in the UK voted Leave.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Greens campaigned for Remain, while the UUP also recommended a Remain vote.

However, Alliance said it would not be joining any electoral pacts.

Strangford MLA Kellie Armstrong said: "Let me be extremely clear - Alliance will not be going into any pacts with any other party, no matter their outlook or goals."

Earlier, Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney said his party shared much "common ground" with the SDLP, Alliance and the Green Party on issues such as Brexit, equality and the legacy of the Troubles.

He said parties opposed to a hard Brexit and austerity policies should work together.

Yesterday morning, SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said: "We don't do electoral pacts.

"The SDLP fights the election - each and every election - on our own mandate and our own basis."

SDLP South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell had also dismissed the idea of an electoral pact with Sinn Féin.

He told U105 it was up to the party leader, but he added: "Pacts are about destroying hope, pacts are about smothering."

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