East Belfast: DUP's Gavin Robinson says party's message 'resonated'
THE DUP's Gavin Robinson said his party's message of "getting Northern Ireland moving again has resonated" as he retained his seat in East Belfast.
Alliance leader Naomi Long significantly reduced the gap on her political rival for the Westminster seat from a majority of more than 8,000 votes to under 2,000.
But for the third time in less than five years, Mr Robinson managed to see off another closely fought challenge between the pair to hold the constituency.
DUP leader Arlene Foster joined party activists in applause as the result was formally announced in the early hours at Belfast's Titanic Exhibition Centre.
In his victory speech from the podium, Mr Robinson said it was a "huge privilege" to be re-elected as MP for East Belfast.
"As a party on the doors, across the constituency and across the province, our message of getting Northern Ireland moving again has resonated," he said.
"That is our challenge be it at Westminster, Stormont or across this province, we have a job of work to do."
The Brexit-backing DUP faced Mrs Long and just one other candidate in the contest, the UUP's Carl McClean – a significantly reduced field compared to eight in 2017.
Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Green Party had all opted out of contesting East Belfast to boost pro-Remain candidate Mrs Long's chances.
Alliance had hoped a surge in support the party received in May's council poll and Mrs Long gaining an MEP seat in the European Parliament elections would translate into a win in East Belfast.
The Alliance leader faced an uphill battle to topple Mr Robinson, who received more than half of the vote share in 2017 at 55.8 per cent.
However, Mrs Long managed to increase her vote by more than 3,600 while Mr Robinson's vote fell by more than 3,000 compared to the last Westminster election.
The UUP's Mr McClean trailed in a distant last in the three-way contest with 2,516 votes.
Mrs Long, who in 2010 dramatically unseated then First Minister Peter Robinson as East Belfast MP, thanked her campaign team for their support in this election.
She also expressed hope for renewed talks to restore devolved government at Stormont which are due to begin next week.
"Let's hope that when we go to Stormont on Monday we can find a way through the difficulties that we face because I think that the story of this election, the message of this election, is that people want to see the assembly up and running," she said.
"They want to see people working together and they want to see delivery."
The turnout for the constituency was 64.34 per cent – a 3.37 per cent drop on the 67.71 per cent figure in 2017.
CANDIDATE VOTES % % CHANGE SINCE 2017
Naomi Long (Alliance) 19,055 (44.9%) +8.9%
Carl McClean (UUP) 2,516 (5.9%) +2.6%
Gavin Robinson (DUP) 20,874 (49.2%) -6.6%
Turnout 42,619 (64.3%) -3.4%