General Election

Colum Eastwood says north's pro-Remain majority 'misrepresented or not represented'

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood at the party's Westminster manifesto launch. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

NORTHERN Ireland's pro-Remain majority has "either been misrepresented or not represented" at Westminster, according to SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

In a speech to launch his party's manifesto in Derry, the Foyle MLA attacked Sinn Féin's abstentionist policy as he cast next week's general election as an opportunity to punish his rivals for failing to take their seats at both Westminster and Stormont.

The SDLP is fielding candidates in all the north's constituencies bar North Belfast, where it has stood aside to enhance John Finucane's prospects of unseating DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

Mr Eastwood is contesting a Westminster election in his home city for the first time, aiming to oust Sinn Féin's Elisha McCallion, who took the seat from the SDLP in 2017 with a majority of just 169.

He said there was an "understandable focus" on the seat, which he described as "incredibly close".

"But to give sole focus to that story also misses a substantial part of why this election is so important to this city and to its people – it also misses the primary reasoning as to why I took the major decision to stand in this election," he said.

"I believe in a very basic principle: you should only ever run to be elected, if you're running to make a difference."

Mr Eastwood said "relationships on these islands" were being jeopardised by Brexit – "our economy, our peace – our shared future".

He claimed the north was two months away from "being dragged out of the EU against our will".

"In the last two years we've been either misrepresented or not represented," he said.

"In this election, we have an opportunity to send voices and votes to Westminster – that can stand up for us and stand against the DUP."

Taking aim at Sinn Féin, the SDLP leader said preventing Brexit meant "facing it head on – voting against it".

"Turning your back on Brexit and ignoring it won't prevent it from happening."

There was more oblique criticism of Alliance, who declined to join the rest of the north's anti-Brexit parties in an election pact.

"By failing to recognise the widespread desire to maximise pro-European representation, it is ironic that those who have been most critical, have shown a selfish and narrow tribalism which they have spent much of their existence claiming to be against," he said.

However, the Foyle MLA paid tribute to Lady Sylvia Hermon, the sole Remain voice from the north at Westminster since 2017.

"Sylvia may have been surrounded by the DUP but she was never silenced by them – when Sylvia Hermon spoke, she spoke for all of us," he said.

The SDLP's 'Stop Boris, Stop Brexit' manifesto pledges to vote to revoke Article 50 and support a so-called People's Vote; reform the Stormont institutions; extend welfare mitigations and seek to move to a carbon-neutral economy by 2030.

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General Election