Ulster Unionist MP Hermon resigns from party

 

THE ULSTER Unionist Party’s (UUP) sole MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, has announced she is resigning from the party to stand as an Independent unionist candidate in the forthcoming British general election. The UUP for the first time has no representation in the House of Commons.

The North Down MP yesterday confirmed the North’s worst kept secret. She was not prepared to campaign under the banner of Ulster Conservatives and Unionists New Force (UCUNF) – the electoral alliance between the UUP and the British Conservative party.

Lady Hermon is deeply antipathetic to the Tories and from the outset opposed the link-up with the UUP through UCUNF. She also opposed the UUP’s decision earlier this month to vote against the transfer of policing and justice powers. “The distance between me and my party has become so great over recent months that I have decided to resign from the Ulster Unionist Party,” she said.

Lady Hermon, widow of the late RUC chief constable Sir John Hermon, said she was proud to serve for the UUP and her decision caused her “profound sadness”.

The UCUNF candidate in North Down will be Ian Parsley, who defected from Alliance to the Northern Ireland Tories. While running as an Independent Lady Hermon is nonetheless firm favourite to hold her seat in the affluent north Down constituency.

Lady Hermon said she was fighting to win. “The tremendous support I have received from constituents during the recent stressful and difficult time in my political life has encouraged me greatly, and convinced me that I ought to run again as a candidate.”

Her statement puts increased pressure on the UUP and its leader Sir Reg Empey to perform well in other constituencies in the election, as a failure to take one or more Westminster seats would be hugely damaging for the party.

Sir Reg Empey expressed his “deep regret” at Lady Hermon’s decision and thanked her for her contribution to Ulster unionism.

Meanwhile, DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson said his party has yet to decide whether to stand a candidate in North Down. And in what was flagged as a keynote pre-election speech in Belfast pledged that, apart from himself, any DUP Assembly members who wins seats in the British general election will give up their Stormont seats.

The DUP won nine seats in the last Westminster elections, all of whom were MLAs. This time the Rev Ian Paisley has announced he is not running in North Antrim while Iris Robinson stood down in Strangford over disclosures about her personal and financial affairs.

Mr Robinson said it was important for him to hold his seat in East Belfast – where his main opponent will be Ulster Unionist and former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland – to maintain the access to power in Westminster “that comes with being an MP”.

Mr Robinson expressed contrition for the Westminster expenses scandal although he said he was “the MP with the lowest expenses in Northern Ireland and who is one of the minority of MPs at Westminster who has been given a clean bill of health by the audit team led by Sir Thomas Legge”.