Sinn Féin has ordered the SDLP to stand down, although sadly not to dump arms, in North Belfast and Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Let nobody call this a nationalist pact, as that would involve reciprocation and Sinn Féin has not offered to stand down anywhere. Sinn Féin’s stance is doubly impressive when it risks handing an SDLP seat to the DUP by running in South Belfast and keeping a DUP seat from Alliance in East Belfast. So let nobody speak of a progressive or anti-Brexit pact either. Meanwhile, the DUP and UUP are standing aside for each other “unilaterally” in two constituencies, which means they do not need to call it a pact. It is a non-pact pact.
With Alliance now narrowly favoured to win in East Belfast, some interesting arithmetic arises. Instead of a majority of seats, unionism could win only a plurality – nine versus nationalism’s eight, with Alliance in the middle. Furthermore, because North Down unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon is a committed Remainer, this would mean a minority of pro-Brexit MPs from Northern Ireland. The latter outcome would be particularly devastating for unionism, as the union may depend on some idea of a ‘mandate for Brexit’. Of course this makes it all the more striking that Sinn Féin will not sacrifice its 2.1 per cent vote share in East Belfast to the cause. That could be enough to swing the result.