The exit poll all but confirmed it. Brexit was going ahead as planned. With that kind of a majority, Parliament would surely pass Boris Johnson’s deal and that would be that.
In my role as deputy leader and Brexit spokesperson of the Alliance Party, I was right in the mix during the talks and negotiations in the months leading up to the deal in October. Alongside our leader and MEP Naomi Long, we helped lobby for a further extension and pressured MPs in Westminster to finally take Northern Irish concerns seriously. So it was certainly a blow to see the poll suggesting an outright majority for the Conservatives after all of our efforts.
It threatened to set the tone for the rest of the night. As we don’t conduct an exit poll in Northern Ireland, we are left in the dark until the first boxes start coming in to the count centres and we get a glimpse of how many ballots there are in each pile. Very quickly however, we noticed that the Alliance piles were a little higher than even we had dared to expect.
After huge results in our local elections and Naomi Long’s election to the European Parliament in May, we should have been used to this by now. With a local media that doubts any talk of an “Alliance surge” you start to internalise that a little, even if you’d never admit it in public. But after this week there can be no more doubting it – the Alliance surge is real, and it has helped change politics in Northern Ireland for good.
Alliance now have our second elected MP, we achieved our best ever total vote and have positioned ourselves firmly as the third largest party across Northern Ireland. It is a fantastic result for the party and ensures we will have effective representation at all four levels of government during the next stage of Brexit.
But it was more than that. It was proof once again that people are rejecting the politics of the past and are not defining themselves along the traditional unionist and nationalist lines which have defined Northern Ireland for generations.
Alliance are often characterised as the party of the “neithers”, but there are far more identities than the traditional two, and people can hold multiple identities at once. We reject that binary thinking and instead look forward to continuing to be the party for everyone in Northern Ireland.
People have made it clear they want parties that prioritise the climate, health and education crises in this country and build up our infrastructure and economy. They also voted to punish the two parties at the centre of the crises we are currently experiencing – Sinn Féin and the DUP.
Our victory in North Down is a watershed moment for politics in the North. As only the second ever Alliance MP elected to Westminster, I will have my work cut out for me.
Added to the election of two of my former Stormont colleagues in the SDLP, we have made sure to return MPs that will take the fight to the Tories and ensure that there is a strong Remain voice representing Northern Ireland in the House of Commons. This was something that was noticeably lacking in the previous Parliament, save the outstanding contribution of my predecessor Lady Sylvia Hermon.
We are still of the belief that there is no such thing as a good Brexit for Northern Ireland and no matter what the final form our exit from the EU will take, it will have massive implications for us. We accept that we are now in the context of mitigating the damage it will surely cause.
While Alliance is thankful and appreciative of every single vote we receive, and we will work hard to keep them, it is not over the top to say that those votes have helped create something historic. Something which is not a fluke.
People have demanded better. It is up to us to help deliver it.
Stephen Farry is MP for North Down and deputy leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland