By Anthony Neeson
Sinn Féin and the SDLP will stand aside in three Westminster contests to help unseat sitting DUP Brexiteer MPs.
The SDLP said it will not contest North Belfast, East Belfast and North Down. Sinn Féin will not stand candidates in South Belfast, East Belfast and North Down.
The decision to withdraw candidates is to maximize the pro-Remain vote and oust DUP MPs who have used their position at Westminster to press for a hard Brexit.
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Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies go to the polls on December 12 during the British general election.
The SDLP decision not to stand in North Belfast heightens the chances of Sinn Féin’s John Finucane taking the North Belfast seat from Nigel Dodds, while the SDLP’s Claire Hanna is now favorite to take South Belfast from Emma Little-Pengelly.
Both parties have also withdrawn from the East Belfast race where Alliance leader Naomi Long is hoping to win back the seat she lost from the DUP’s Gavin Robinson.
In North Down, Lady Silvia Hermon, the pro-Remain independent unionist, will hope to successfully defend her seat against a strong DUP challenge.
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said her party wanted to see as many pro-Remain MPs elected as possible.
She denied that it was an election pact saying the party took the decision “unilaterally.”
“Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said: “You can call this a pact, you can call it what you wish, the reality is that we’re asking people to come out and to vote for those pro-Remain candidates.
“This is in many ways a once in a generation election. The stakes are very high and people have a fundamental choice to make to vote for a positive, inclusive future or to turn their backs on that and back candidates who have been the architect for Brexit and acted very deliberately against the democratic wishes of people here in the North.”
In a separate development, the Ulster Unionist Party have pulled out of the North Belfast contest. Last week the party’s new leader, Steve Aiken, said the party would contest all 18 constituencies.
However, after coming under internal pressure from within the unionist community the party pulled out of the contest. DUP MP Nigel Dodds is defending a 2,000 vote majority over Sinn Féin’s John Finucane, the current Lord Mayor of Belfast.