Ulster Unionists to announce alliance with Goldsmith party

 

THE Ulster Unionist Party will announce details today of a political alliance with Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party. The move, which has caused dissent in the party, is worrying the Conservatives who are increasingly reliant on unionist support in parliament.

The UUP deputy leader, Mr John Taylor MP, who opposes the new relationship within Europe, said it would have no effect on the operation of the party at Westminster.

With the Conservatives losing their majority in the House of Commons, the UUP is keenly aware that Mr Major is relying on their votes to see him through until May 1st, his preferred date for the general election.

The announcement that the UUP's only MEP, Mr James Nicholson, will join the Europe of Nations group in the European Parliament, headed by Sir James Goldsmith, follows meetings between the UUP leader, Mr David Trimble, and the Referendum Party.

The chairman of the UUP's European Policy Committee, Prof Anthony Alcock, has said he was not consulted on Mr Nicholson's decision to join the Europe of Nations group and he does not support it. He said last night, unionists may have to take part of the blame" if the Referendum Party puts up candidates against the Conservatives and loses the government seats as a result.

But the alliance will have no effect on the operation of the UUP at Westminster, Mr Taylor argued yesterday. As European policy spokesman for the party in the House of Commons, he said he opposed the new relationship within Europe and would urge MPs to view the Referendum Party with "caution".

"It has no MPs at Westminster and is unlikely to have any. It is a one issue party here today and probably away tomorrow. Whatever the immediate temptations may be, Ulster Unionists would be wise to always think of the tomorrow" he advised.

A staunchly Euro sceptic party, the UUP has decided that Mr Nicholson can better serve the interests of the party in Europe by joining the Europe of Nations grouping, which is much less inclined towards embracing a single currency. One senior Conservative said: "There must be a suspicion that Goldsmith is bankrolling the UUR The unionists are strapped for cash, they have no big donors.

Mr Trimble was unavailable for comment yesterday, but it is understood he is eager to take a long term view of who his party will be facing in opposition after the general election.

Recently he said that, although he will consider votes in the House of Commons on a case by case basis, he will not give Mr Major a blank cheque and this will give the UUP more room to manoeuvre before an election in the spring.

The Ulster Unionist MP, Mr Ken, Maginnis, said the decision to join the Europe of Nations grouping was predicated on the view that the UUP was no longer comfortable with its association with the European People's Party in Europe, from which Mr Nicholson has defected, because it was "rushing headlong" into support for a common currency and a federal Europe.

It was essential for the party, he said, to find an area within the European Union with which it was more comfortable. But he stressed the alliance would not necessarily enable the Referendum Party to exert influence at Westminster with the help of the unionists.

"This is an almost isolated European arrangement and is not intended by those of us in Westminster to impact on the party at Westminster. We have to interface with both parties on major social and economic issues and indeed others which fall outside the scope of Europe.

"Whatever government is in power with a small majority, we would not wish to behave irresponsibly to get short term benefits, which really do not benefit anyone." Mr Maginnis said.

However, Mr Maginnis admitted that he hoped difficulties which inevitably arise in Europe would not "spill over into the national scene". In a reference to the continuing troubles faced by the Conservatives, he said in terms of Westminster the party would take a "panoramic view".

"It may be a difficult balancing act, but if this alliance works against the independence of the Ulster Unionist Party in terms of its national role then it would need to be re-examined."

The alliance between the Referendum Party and the UUP will secure the future of the Europe of Nations group, which had faced losing recognition as a political force following the defection of a French MEP.

The defection reduced membership of the group to 17, below the 18 members, needed in order to secure funding.