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Sinn Féin spurn SDLP offer to fight election in pro-Remain constituencies with Brexit-supporting MPs

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has given up on an anti-Brexit pact. Picture by David Young/PA Wire

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has conceded that plans for an anti-Brexit electoral pact are effectively dead.

The Foyle MLA had hoped that a deal could be agreed with Sinn Féin which would have seen non-aligned candidates contest three constituencies that voted Remain but were represented by pro-Brexit MPs. However, Sinn Féin dismissed the proposal to run agreed candidates in North Belfast, East Derry and Fermanagh-South Tyrone.

The latest SDLP plan was a last ditch effort to field anti-Brexit candidates after the collapse of a proposed cross-party coalition that would have also included Sinn Féin and the Greens.

The Greens pulled out of those negotiations on Tuesday, saying it could not ask voters to support Sinn Féin's abtenstionist policy or the SDLP's pro-life former leader Alasdair McDonnell, who will contest South Belfast. Alliance had already ruled itself out of any electoral pact.

Mr Eastwood said there was little hope for bringing together an anti-Brexit coalition when Alliance failed to entertain the idea.

"Without Alliance on board we were always facing an up-hill struggle because if it was going to work we needed to have across-the-board representation ," he said.

The SDLP leader said he was disappointed that his efforts had failed but said he was now more concerned about the consequences of having no single voice opposing Brexit.

"Clearly Theresa May is looking to reinforce the Brexit result while we were seeking to reinforce the result in Northern Ireland and our opposition to Brexit," he said.

"We will continue to push the case for special status at Westminster."

Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd said the SDLP leader's proposal was "not a credible offer" and that his party wanted a pact with "political party representation" rather than non-aligned candidates.

"We don't believe that's an acceptable way forward – it is political parties that will drive forward change in this society," he said.

"We see that as a proposal from Colum to stymie Sinn Féin and bolster the SDLP - that's not what progressive political alliances should be about."

Mr O'Dowd said that Sinn Féin was still prepared to discuss a potential deal with others.

Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster has criticised the parties seeking special status and said the most productive way of securing the best post-Brexit deal for the north was by re-establishing the devolved institutions.

Writing in The Irish News today, she said: "I do not believe that a circular argument about some ill-defined and ill-conceived so-called special status for Northern Ireland is helpful – indeed it is more likely to be counter productive.

"However, as I pointed out in my speech to the DUP party conference as far back as last October, any deal must recognise the reality of our geography and of our history."

Mrs Foster said the region's parties needed to unite in the face of Brexit.

"What we need now is, not a divisive election focussed on fighting battles which have already been fought, but an attempt to find shared solutions to the issues that we all face," she said.

"By far the best way to achieve this is to get a Stormont executive up and running as quickly as possible."

Mrs Foster's party is expected to continue talking to the Ulster Unionists about a potential pact in South Belfast, South Antrim and East Belfast.

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