Pro-EU unionists say no to ‘anti-Brexit pact’

Danny Kinahan  a pro-Remain MP  has rejected overtures towards the UUP by the SDLP about forging an anti-Brexit alliance
Danny Kinahan  a pro-Remain MP  has rejected overtures towards the UUP by the SDLP about forging an anti-Brexit alliance

Unionists who had favoured remaining in the EU have rejected the notion of joining what the SDLP has dubbed an “anti-Brexit axis”.

The UUP has said it will not form part of any such electoral pact aimed at thwarting “the will of the people of the United Kingdom”, whilst two prominent unionist independents have likewise displayed no interest in the notion.

It is now six days since the idea of some kind of deal aimed at maximising anti-Brexit representation in the June 8 election was mooted by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood – but at time of writing, the only interest which has been voiced has come from Sinn Fein and the Greens.

On Friday, the SDLP had stressed once again the pact they are seeking is not a “sectarian” one aimed at uniting nationalists – adding specifically that it would “reach out” to “pro-Europe unionists”.

In a statement on Monday, South Antrim UUP MP Danny Kinahan – who had backed the Remain campaign – said: “A democratic vote took place and the decision has been made that the UK is leaving the EU. That is not going to change.

“We must now all work together on getting the best deal for all the people of Northern Ireland as the Brexit negotiations progress.

“That means focusing on the future and not the past. That means electing politicians who will take their seats in Westminster and ensure that their voices are heard.

“The Ulster Unionist Party will not be part of any coalition established to oppose the democratic will of the people of the United Kingdom.”

Sylvia Hermon, independent unionist MP for North Down (who had voted Remain in the referendum), said: “I haven’t been approached by any one inviting me to join an anti-Brexit pact.

“And that is absolutely fine with me, because I will not be joining any pact.”

Claire Sugden, erstwhile justice minister and independent unionist for East Londonderry, said she is not intending to stand in the upcoming general election.

She said she had voted Remain but did not actively campaign for it. She too had not been approached by the SDLP.

Asked if she would add her name to any such anti-Brexit alliance if approached, she said: “No probably not, because I’m of the perspective that the UK voted to come out... Whilst that wasn’t what I would have liked, at the end of the day I think we need to get on with it.

“So I don’t really see what it’s going to achieve in terms of creating a pact.

“Let’s boil it down to what it really is –it’s about getting elected and political strategy.

“They can dress it up whatever way they wish.”

The SDLP reiterated that it was attempting to persuade other parties to put “traditional differences aside” on the matter, adding: “Fifty-six pc of people here voted to remain, we should not return more pro-Brexit MPs.”

In its editorial slot on Monday, the Irish News said “Brexit has changed everything and it would be wrong to suggest that a sectarian image could be applied to a positive response involving Sinn Fein, the SDLP and potantially the Green Party”.

It described discussions on the matter as “both reasonable and logical”.

Last Wednesday, Colum Eastwood had said he would “speak to anybody who wants to retain our membership of the EU and protect our citizens from a hard Brexit”.

Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill said she would “be up for (electoral pact) discussions”, whilst the Green Party were having talks about the matter at the weekend and on Monday, and are expected to do so on Tuesday as well.

If a pact were forged spanning several constituencies between Sinn Fein and the SDLP, it could mean the SDLP retaining South Belfast and Sinn Fein winning North Belfast, Fermanagh and South Tyrone – and possibly Upper Bann too..