UUP sees possibility of voting Major out

 

THE problems of the British Prime Minister, Mr Major, intensified last night with a warning from the Ulster Unionist Party that it might support a motion of no confidence in the government at Westminster. But the UUP deputy leader, Mr John Taylor, said that if Mr Major was defeated in a confidence vote this would not necessarily mean a general election.

A coalition government could emerge under the leadership of the prime minister or some other MP, Mr Taylor told The Irish Times. "Rather than have a general election, the Unionists, in the interests of the United Kingdom, would encourage a coalition government should the Conservative government fall", he said.

Mr Taylor stressed that the UUP would at all times act "in the best interests of the United Kingdom". Striking a note which may appeal to Euro-sceptics in Mr Major's party, he said that a vote of no confidence could arise out of an issue related to the European Union.

"Our position is very clear," Mr Taylor said. "We are the fourth largest parliamentary party in the House of Commons and, as such, we have a responsibility of maintaining the best form of government for the UK.

"Unlike the Labour Party, which automatically opposes everything, we are in a more privileged position in that we decide each issue on its own merits. We will therefore proceed this year to act in the best interests of the UK, and of Northern Ireland in particular.

"This means we will not be automatically supporting the government. Each issue will be decided on its own merits and we could easily find ourselves in a position where we would be supporting a vote of no confidence in the government.

"But it should be understood that a vote of no confidence can refer to different subjects. If it were the economy of the UK, I think we would be inclined to support the government, because the UK is now entering a fairly favourable economic situation, with the lowest levels of inflation, interest rates, mortgage rates and unemployment for many years.

"However, if it were on an issue of Europe, as happened before Christmas in the fishing debate, we could easily find ourselves opposing the government, as we did on that occasion.

"A defeat of a government in a vote of confidence does not necessarily mean a general election in that a coalition government could emerge under the leadership of the prime minister or some other Member of Parliament.

"Rather than have a general election, the Unionists, in the interests of the UK, would encourage a coalition government should the Conservative government fall. If some parties could come together in a coalition in the best interests of the United Kingdom, we would contribute positively to that."

Observers suggested that issues on which the UUP might vote against the government included the single European currency and the Scott inquiry into arms for Iraq.