The SDLP has announced it will not stand in three constituencies in the north of Ireland in a bid to facilitate pro-Remain candidates.
The nationalist party will not put forward candidates in North and East Belfast and in North Down as it attempts to prevent DUP Brexiteers winning those seats.
The move in North Belfast will give Sinn Féin candidate John Finucane a better chance of unseating DUP deputy leader and longstanding MP Nigel Dodds, who has a majority of just over 2,000.
The decision not to field a candidate in the north of the city for the first time in the party’s history has prompted claims of hypocrisy from political rivals, given the SDLP’s vocal criticism of Sinn Féin’s Westminster abstentionist policy in other battleground constituencies, such as Foyle.
Former SDLP councillor Mairia Cahill resigned from the party in protest at the move, accusing the party of facilitating a “sectarian headcount”.
The SDLP said it had taken an “extraordinary decision” for an “extraordinary election”.
“We have taken a unilateral decision not to stand candidates in North Down, North Belfast and East Belfast,” said the party.
“Our first priority is to elect pro-Remain MPs to vote against Brexit and Boris Johnson but removing pro-Brexit MPs in Belfast is also critical.”
The Ulster Unionist Party has already stepped aside in North Belfast to give Dodds a better chance of winning.
The UUP decision also proved controversial, as it came only a week after incoming leader Steve Aiken pledged to run in all 18 constituencies in the north of Ireland.
Police are investigating alleged paramilitary threats made to the party in the wake of Aiken’s initial pledge.
The SDLP move in East Belfast is designed to give Alliance Party leader Naomi Long a better chance of defeating incumbent DUP MP Gavin Robinson, while in North Down it is hoping that independent unionist and pro-Remain MP Lady Sylvia Hermon can see off a DUP challenge to unseat her.
The party’s announcement is expected to be met with a reciprocal gesture from Sinn Féin in South Belfast, to strengthen SDLP candidate Claire Hanna’s chance of beating sitting DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?