UUP and Tories in alliance talks
Ulster Unionists are in talks with the British Conservative Party about joining forces to create a new political movement in Northern Ireland.
Tory leader David Cameron revealed that talks have been under way between the parties for the last few months, leading to a decision last week to set up a working group on the creation of the new movement.
The working group is expected to discuss issues like whether a merger should take place or whether the two parties should work together in an alliance. It will report to Mr Cameron and UUP leader Sir Reg Empey in the autumn.
In a joint article in the Daily Telegraph,the two men said that they wanted to create conditions to shift the focus of politics in Northern Ireland away from the constitutional and sectarian issues which have dominated the last few decades and onto the concerns of ordinary people throughout Britain and Northern Ireland such as tax, welfare and education.
If agreement is sealed, UUP MPs are expected to take the Tory whip and to be invited to serve as ministers in future Conservative administrations.
Although the UUP currently has only one MP at Westminster, Lady Sylvia Hermon, it is thought likely to improve its showing at the next general election and may hold the balance of power in the case of a hung Parliament.
Mr Cameron said: “For the first time in decades the people of Northern Ireland will now have a new choice of politics.
“These discussions with the UUP should mark the beginning of a creation of a new mainstream political movement that could provide leadership nationally but as importantly at every other level.
“Northern Ireland could have a new political force that follows an agenda of prosperity and opportunity and not one focused on division and the problems of the past."
The Conservatives have historic ties with the Ulster Unionists and share a similar political philosophy, but there have been no formal links between the two parties at Westminster since the 1970s.