Northern Ireland

East Antrim: DUP’s Sammy Wilson banks on Farage backing to scupper any TUV challenge

Eyes will also be on Alliance vote share to see if party can build on huge increase in 2019

Carrickfergus Castle is a spectacular 'proper' castle and well worth a visit. Picture by Mal McCann
Floating voters?: Carrickfergus Castle in the East Antrim Westminster constituency. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

Expect no big surprises in East Antrim, where DUP stalwart Sammy Wilson intends to retain a seat he has held for his party since 2005.

Sammy Wilson’s lead has wobbled in the ensuing years since taking the seat, dipping to a low of 36% in 2015 thanks to UKIP throwing their hat into the ring for the first time in the constituency.

The populist muscle behind UKIP now belongs to Reform, who if you believe what’s on the ballot paper is in an electoral partnership with the TUV. But if the hardline unionist party’s candidate Matthew Warwick thought he could count on a link with Nigel Farage to eat into the DUP’s percentage, that hope went out the window when the Reform leader openly backed his old Brexit years buddy Sammy Wilson.

Confused? Imagine how Warwick and TUV leader Jim Allister felt at such a humiliation.

Wilson’s anti-EU credentials are only hardened by his openly critical stance of his own party’s agreement with the British Government to restore Stormont earlier this year. He followed his disdain for the deal - which former leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claimed effectively removed the Irish Sea border - by standing down as the DUP’s chief whip at Westminster.

Any unionist still riled over the Northern Ireland Protocol will remember Wilson’s scepticism of the deal, along with the Farage stamp of approval, before putting an X in the TUV’s box.

Meanwhile, what of the Ulster Unionists, who before Wilson’s 2005 victory held East Antrim for 12 years thanks to the local popularity of Roy Beggs? Under previous leader Steve Aiken, they failed to mount a believable challenge here last time around, mostly thanks to a significant rise in support for the Alliance Party, whose vote share jumped from just over 11% in 2017 to over 27% four years ago.

This spike was under Danny Donnelly, whose profile has only expanded thanks to his winning an Assembly seat in East Antrim in the 2022 Stormont election. However, the UUP’s candidate this time round is also a local MLA, John Stewart, who clinched a respectable result in 2022, and is aiming to breathe new life into his party’s Westminster vote share.

Both would-be MPs will be competing to make gains in a constituency where nationalism poses no serious electoral threat.

Sinn Féin’s Oliver McMullan is standing yet again to have a another crack at stretching the party’s minimal share, while the SDLP’s Margaret Anne McKillop is returning as a candidate after skipping the 2019 election, in which her party’s East Antrim share shrunk to a new low of 2.4%.

East Antrim
East Antrim