The political week in 5 points
The snap Northern Ireland Assembly election produced a shock result, with the DUP picking up just one seat (28) more than Sinn Féin (27). The SDLP (12) overtook the UUP (10). Despite the number of Assembly seats falling from 108 to 90, the Alliance Party held onto its 8 seats. The Green Party saw its 2 outgoing MLAs returned, People Before Profit’s representation fell from 2 seats to 1, the TUV remains at 1 seat and outgoing Justice Minister Claire Sugden returns as the sole Independent. Voter turnout was up 10% on last May’s election; a total of 64.8% represented the highest turnout since the 2003 vote which followed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
After results day, DUP MP Gavin Robinson said the party is not ruling out an ultimatum from Sinn Féin for DUP leader Arlene Foster to step aside temporarily over the RHI issue. He did say, however, that it would be Mrs Foster’s decision. In what he described to BBC 5Live’s Stephen Nolan Show as a “difficult election” and a “bad day for unionism”, prominent outgoing DUP MLAs who lost their seats included Party Chairman Lord Morrow (Fermanagh and South Tyrone), Nelson McCausland (North Belfast) and Brenda Hale (Lagan Valley).
Mike Nesbitt quit as UUP leader as numerous prominent party colleagues failed to win re-election in a poll they hoped to make gains. Having criticised DUP leader Arlene Foster over the past few months on how she should take responsibility for her actions, Mr Nesbitt said he had to take “full responsibility” for a disappointing result; it would be “the height of hypocrisy” to stay on. As the votes continued to be counted on Friday, Mr Nesbitt said the electorate appeared to have rejected his hope for a post-sectarian election.
The UK government’s Brexit bill was defeated in the House of Lords (358 votes to 256), with members saying ministers should guarantee EU nationals’ right to stay in the UK when leaves the European Union. The amendment goes back to the House of Commons, but it could be overturned when MPs, who have already backed the bill without amendments, vote on it again.
French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has faced growing calls to quit over allegations he paid his wife and children for work they did not do; numerous senior members of his campaign team have resigned. French presidential elections see two rounds of voting; the first will be on 23 April, with the two most popular candidates set for a final run-off on 7 May. According to polls, Mr Fillon would be eliminated in the first round, with until-now political outsiders right-wing Marine Le Pen (Front Nationale) and liberal Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!, or “Let’s Go!”) favourites to make it to the run-off.