Northern Ireland

Brexit not the dominant issue in every constituency

Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew won in Fermanagh/South Tyrone. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association
Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew won in Fermanagh/South Tyrone. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association

BREXIT was a major factor in the election but not the dominant issue in every constituency, a political expert has said.

The results in Northern Ireland's 18 constituencies fell roughly in line with voting patterns seen in the 2016 European Union referendum.

Leave-voting constituencies, including North Antrim and Strangford, opted for DUP MPs, whereas areas with a Remain vote opted for Sinn Féin, the SDLP or Alliance.

The overall result appears to reflect strong support for Remain. Of the main parties, only the DUP - which won around 30 per cent of the vote - campaigned for Leave.

Remain-backing parties including Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance won more than 50 per cent of the overall vote.

The Ulster Unionists backed a Remain vote but later stated that the referendum vote should be respected.

The party's stance may have been a factor in the key Fermanagh & South Tyrone seat. Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott, who advocated Leave in opposition to his party's policy, failed to take the seat from his Remainer rival, Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew.

Before the election, Ms Gildernew had suggested that pro-Remain unionist farmers in the constituency would boost her vote.

Gráinne Walsh, director of public affairs agency Strategem, said it was "always going to be challenging" for Mr Elliott to take the seat.

"There was a strong compelling narrative for Sinn Féin in that constituency, of course facilitated by Brexit," she said.

She said the Brexit question had greater influence in some constituencies.

"Where you have seen the SDLP take a huge bounce, as with Claire Hanna in south Belfast, there was a clear Remain message," she said.

"Colum Eastwood's victory in Foyle can be attributed to a choice between two Remain parties."

She said voters may have opted for Mr Eastwood as a Remainer who will take his seat in Parliament.

"And that was within the context of the SDLP having lost by very few votes the last time," she said.

"In terms of the UUP they never quite pinned their colours to the mast in terms of Remain. Like the Labour party ultimately they never quite got that strong narrative. As it turns out, both in the referendum and the election you needed a strong narrative."

She added: "There will always be individual factors at play, particularly here where you have the overlapping of community dynamics here, the post-conflict issues and then the issue of Brexit. The fault lines are reasonably similar but not necessarily at all times and you would expect the larger parties to lose a little bit."