Easton says his victory in North Down holds lessons for unionism

The former DUP member received the backing of the DUP and TUV

Alex Easton, Independent Unionist candidate, gives a speech after he is declared the winner for the North Down constituency at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast, during the count for the 2024 General Election. Picture date: Friday July 5, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Election Ulster. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire (Liam McBurney/Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Independent Alex Easton said his victory in North Down was an example of what was possible if “unionism unites”.

Mr Easton finally succeed in his fourth run at a Westminster seat, defeating incumbent Stephen Farry.

An emotional Mr Easton said he was “gobsmacked” after what had been a difficult election.

The intra unionist contest in the area over the last six weeks has been messy and acrimonious and has delivered a number of headlines.

The former DUP candidate, who was endorsed by both the TUV and DUP which did not field candidates in this constituency, said his victory held lessons for political unionism.

“It just goes to show that if unionism unites, we can take seats back for unionism and that’s a lesson unionism needs to learn right across the board,” he said.

Fighting back tears, Mr Easton dedicated his victory to his parents, who tragically died last year in a house fire.

The Alliance deputy leader was elected in 2019 in a surprise victory, securing the only MP seat held by his party.

Famously the first non-unionist candidate to be elected in the constituency, Mr Farry saw his seat return back to unionism.

In 2019 Mr Easton who then ran for the DUP, came second to Farry by 2,968 votes.

But it was fourth time lucky for Mr Easton, who on Friday defeated the Alliance deputy leader with a comfortable margin of over 7,000 votes.

Mr Easton, the new MP for North Down, returned 20,913 votes while Mr Farry returned 13,608 votes.

Originally expected to be a close race between Mr Easton, Mr Farry and the UUP’s Col Tim Collins, the contest quickly turned into a two horse race.

At the early stages of the count, the former British army colonel delivered a blow to UUP declaring that his vote hadn’t held strong.

Co Collins was fielded by the UUP in January, in what was effectively a unilateral bid to put him forward as the single unionist candidate.

With 6,754 votes he polled third, but he accurately predicted that Mr Easton would take the seat.

“People in North Down, I think they don’t want someone who doesn’t live in Northern Ireland,” he told the BBC.

“They’re interested in local politics, they’re not interested in cutting VAT, they’re not interested in international affairs. They’re interested in potholes and hedges.”

Asked if would he run again in five years’ time, Col Collins said he could not predict what he would be doing then.

Unlike in 2019, both the Greens and the SDLP fielded candidates in this election. The SDLP’s Deirdre Vaughn won 657, while Barry McKee secured a 1,247 votes for the Greens.

Independent Chris Carter walked away with only 117 votes.