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The North's only independent MP is standing down - get set for a potentially nasty battle for her seat

Independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon is standing down as an MP.

Sylvia Hermon's decision to stand down in North Down adds another element of unpredictability to the UK election.
Sylvia Hermon's decision to stand down in North Down adds another element of unpredictability to the UK election.
Image: Julien Behal/PA Archive/PA Images

THE NORTH’S ONLY independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon is stepping down and won’t be contesting her seat in the UK election. 

Hermon, the only non-DUP voice representing Northern Ireland in the House of Commons, had represented the North Down constituency for the last 18 years. 

Tributes were paid to her by politicians on both sides of the border. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called her “honourable and brave”. 

“She has given so much in her 18 years as an MP. I wish her the very best in the future and know she will enjoy having more time with her family,” he said. 

But the decision came as a shock and adds a significant element of unpredictability to the election race in Northern Ireland. 

Hermon, a former Ulster Unionist MP, has been a backbench critic of both the UK government’s Brexit strategy and the DUP’s outspoken support the leaving the EU. 

In recent weeks, Hermon had voted against Boris Johnson’s deal and sought to get reassurances from both him and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith that the constitutional position of the North wouldn’t be impacted by the revised agreement. 

Election

Hermon’s North Down seat has been a long-time target for the DUP. In 2017, the party was only a few thousand votes short of unseating her, with candidate Alex Easton’s vote share growing dramatically from 2015. 

This had set up a tight, potentially nasty, fight in the constituency for Hermon to retain her seat. 

Only this week, in an announcement that may have caused something of a headache for Hermon, Sinn Féin had said it would stand aside in North Down to give Hermon its full support. 

And while the decision would have done little to secure Hermon’s victory – Sinn Féin only received 1.4% share of the vote in 2017 and 0.8% in 2015 – it was a significant signal that pro-remain parties would be working closely together to try and defeat the DUP. 

Her decision to stand aside opens the race up, with a DUP victory being the most plausible outcome based on previous elections. 

That’s significant for the party, because both Nigel Dodds and Emma Little Pengelly are in a dogfight against Sinn Féin and the SDLP to keep their seats, meaning the DUP could return to Westminster something of a diminished grouping. 

But victory for the DUP isn’t inevitable. In the North Down constituency, 52% of people backed Remain, making the outcome of the race genuinely unpredictable. 

Sinn Féin have little to no chance of victory there, but the party may decide now to run a candidate following Hermon’s departure. 

That might depend on what the Alliance Party does next. The party, which placed third on 8.6% of the vote in 2017, will see the seat as a real opportunity in its heartland of the wider Belfast and Down area. 

The Ulster Unionists may also decide to contest the seat against the DUP, but it will face an uphill struggle to look fully convincing after u-turning on its pledge to contest Dodds’ North Belfast seat. 

Put simply, Hermon’s decision to stand aside has added another twist to a Northern Ireland election that could ultimately shape the direction of politics in the entirety of the UK. 

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