TUV furious over 'dubious' North Down co-option as Alex Easton claims 'no deal' was done with DUP

Peter Wilson - chairman of the TUV in North Down - (far left) celebrating North Down Independent unionist Alex Easton's election win.Peter Wilson - chairman of the TUV in North Down - (far left) celebrating North Down Independent unionist Alex Easton's election win.
Peter Wilson - chairman of the TUV in North Down - (far left) celebrating North Down Independent unionist Alex Easton's election win.
The TUV says it stood aside for Alex Easton after receiving repeated assurances that the former MLA would give the seat to another independent opposed to the Irish Sea border – a claim the new North Down MP has not denied.

Mr Easton says he told the TUV that he was “having problems finding someone” – and says that the DUP’s Peter Martin, who will replace him at Stormont, “is opposed to the border down the Irish Sea”.

The DUP say the decision is “hardly surprising” in the interests of strengthening the unionist cause.

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Both the DUP and TUV stood aside for Mr Easton, who defeated Alliance’s Stephen Farry with a significant majority. During the campaign, Mr Farry had sought clarity from Mr Easton on whether he supported Jim Allister or Gavin Robinson’s interpretation of the Safeguarding the Union deal. Mr Easton said he believed it is a “work in progress”, after initially declining to make his position on the deal clear.

That was interpreted by some in the TUV as an endorsement of the DUP’s position. Mr Easton was keen to point out that himself and Jim Allister were recently the only MLAs to vote against an EU law at Stormont – a position which Mr Martin wouldn’t have been able to take as a DUP MLA.

A TUV spokesperson said: “Before the election TUV’s North Down branch chairman met with Alex Easton and sought and received assurances about his MLA seat. Mr Easton assured him that he would be appointing an other independent.

“At a later stage, a Zoom meeting was arranged between Jim Allister, Ben Habib and Alex Easton. At this meeting Mr Easton repeated his assurance that he would give his Assembly seat to an independent Unionist who opposed the Sea Border.

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“It was on that basis that TUV issued a statement calling for our supporters in North Down to support Alex Easton’s campaign. The chairman of North Down TUV put heart and soul into the campaign to elect Mr Easton to Westminster and there is obviously a feeling of betrayal among those who showed commitment to Mr Easton only to find that they had been mislead.

Mr Easton said: “I was humbled to be elected by a wide cross-section of pro-Union voters in North Down and to be endorsed by a range of political parties and groups, including the Democratic Unionist Party, and the TUV I want to thank them for helping to Unite Unionism across North Down.

“This was a difficult decision to make and not taken lightly. I want my replacement to be able to work for the people of North Down, to be able to work closely with me and to be able to work in the Assembly in a way that strengthens Unionism and takes the fight to Sinn Fein as Unionism learns the lesson of this General Election and starts to plan for the future.

“I have considered a range of possible replacement candidates and have concluded, taking account of all the relevant factors for the Pro-Union people of North Down, that Bangor West Cllr Peter Martin will be my replacement in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

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“Peter Martin won back a seat for Unionism in the Bangor West DEA in 2023 and has a track record of being hard working in Bangor. He has his roots in our constituency and he campaigned and supported me during the General Election campaign. I did speak to the TUV before the election and said I would try to co/opt an independent Unionist unfortunately I was turned down by several individuals. I simply was running out of time and had no choice but to think outside the box. The TUV were aware I was having problems finding someone they were told! I could not risk a costly byelection which could risk a Unionist seat. I will not be joining the DUP and will sit as an independent Unionist and will not be influenced by anyone and will make my own decisions!

“I believe in unionist co-operation and the way that my campaign succeeded in North Down, garnering the support of unionists is a model for the future. By selecting Peter he has assured me he will work to strengthen the Union, is opposed to the border down the Irish Sea and will work with all community organisations and work for all regardless of their religion or political beliefs”.

The TUV have also questioned the DUP on the matter, saying the party has cited North Down as an example of what Unionist unity can achieve and “sought to portray their decision to stand aside as selfless”.

A spokesperson for Jim Allister’s party said: “Did they seek a commitment from Mr Easton about his Assembly seat and was it given? Were they aware of the assurances given to TUV? Are they content that an Assembly seat could be gained in such a dubious fashion?”

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The DUP said “In the interests of strengthening the unionist cause in North Down and across Northern Ireland it is hardly surprising that a hard working local councillor from the largest unionist party, who regained a council seat from Alliance in 2023, has been selected by the outgoing MLA “

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