Northern Ireland news

Alliance withdraw from pro-Remain campaign launch in row over candidate endorsements

Naomi Long was scheduled to speak at Our Future Our Choice NI but withdrew at short notice. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

THE organisers of a campaign endorsing six cross-party pro-Remain candidates in next month's Westminster election were forced to cancel yesterday's high-profile launch after Alliance pulled out at short notice.

Naomi Long's party is understood to have misgivings about which candidates received the campaign's support.

Ms Long was scheduled to speak at yesterday morning's Our Future Our Choice NI launch event in Belfast's Lyric Theatre alongside SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, the party's South Belfast candidate Claire Hanna, and Green leader Clare Bailey.

The pro-Remain group, which advocates a second referendum on EU membership, is backing six candidates in marginal seats across the north to "ensure we have better representation on Brexit".

The six candidates supported by the group are Naomi Long (East Belfast); Colum Eastwood (Foyle); Danny Kinahan (South Antrim); John Finucane (North Belfast); Claire Hanna (South Belfast); and Stephen Farry (North Down).

But the public display of anti-Brexit unity was thrown into jeopardy when Alliance withdrew less than 24 hours before the campaign launch was due to happen.

Alliance has declined to comment on its eleventh hour withdrawal from the event but The Irish News understands the party was unhappy with the campaign's endorsement of Claire Hanna ahead of its own candidate in South Belfast, Paula Bradshaw.

The party, which is opposed to electoral pacts, also has concern about the backing for Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan, who it felt is not fully supportive of a second referendum. Mr Kinahan told The Irish News he was "not especially" an advocate of a second referendum but described himself as a "Remainer through and through".

A spokesman for Our Future Our Choice NI, which is closely allied to the People's Vote campaign, said that while Alliance was unlikely to appear alongside other pro-Remain candidates, the party was "fully behind the group's endorsement" and its support. The spokesman pointed that Ms Long had shared a platform with the SDLP and the Greens at an event organised by the group at the Ulster Hall in September.

"It's about ensuring that we put ideology and self-interest to one side to and work together to try and avoid the biggest policy disaster in a generation," the spokesman said.

"Remain campaign groups have the right to endorse candidates based on who they think can win, who they feel would be the most effective voice on this issue, and from the discussions they have held with candidates."

The group has also defended its decision to endorse Mr Eastwood in Foyle, ahead of Sinn Féin's sitting MP Elisha McCallion, even though both candidates are pro-Remain.

"Endorsing a candidate in Foyle was a difficult decision as both Colum (Eastwood) and Elisha (McCallion) are opposed to Brexit," a Our Future Our Choice spokesman said

"Both have engaged with us, and are really supportive, however, the SDLP have been actively supporting a People's Vote to stop Brexit consistently whereas Sinn Féin, whilst supportive of a Remain position and Remain groups, haven't been as consistent in their support for it."

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