‘Bonkers’ for DUP and Ulster Unionists not to agree electoral pact, MP says

Incoming UUP leader Steve Aiken under increasing pressure to strike deal with DUP

Arlene Foster,   DUP leader, party deputy leader, Nigel Dodds  and MP Jeffrey Donaldson. File photo. Photograph:  Carl Court/Getty

Arlene Foster, DUP leader, party deputy leader, Nigel Dodds and MP Jeffrey Donaldson. File photo. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty

 

Pressure is mounting on the incoming Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken from fellow unionists to change his decision that his party will contest all 18 seats in the December Westminster general election in Northern Ireland.

South Antrim Assembly member Mr Aiken, who is to succeed Robin Swann as leader on Saturday week, has stated that he will put up candidates in every constituency in the election.

Referring to the UK-EU Brexit deal that British prime minister Boris Johnson is attempting to get through the British parliament Mr Aiken said the UUP could not tell voters to support a party “who put a border down the Irish Sea”.

The DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said it would be “bonkers” not to agree a pact.

In recent days a number of unionists have urged Mr Aiken to shift his position, particularly contending that the failure to agree a unionist pact could gift Sinn Féin candidate John Finucane the seat of DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds in North Belfast.

Equally, he has been told that the absence of a pact would prevent the expected UUP candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone, Tom Elliott, having any chance of regaining the seat from Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew.

“I just don’t understand where Steve Aiken is coming from, that he proposes we have a unionist dogfight in the middle of the most important election in decades,” said Mr Donaldson on Wednesday.

“I don’t think they stand a chance of winning the seat in the constituencies where they will split the vote,” he told the BBC.

The Traditional Unionist Voice party also called for a pact. “In a first past the post election the luxury of expressing a preference within the unionist family will not be available to all, particularly in marginal seats,” said a TUV spokesman.

“Thus in seats such as Fermanagh and South Tyrone and North Belfast, agreed candidates should be a no-brainer. For TUV the union trumps everything,” he added.

Meanwhile, the SDLP leader and Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood is to stand in Foyle in an attempt to regain the seat which was lost by 169 votes to Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion two years ago.

The SDLP held the seat since the constituency of Foyle was created in 1983, first with John Hume and then Mark Durkan. Mr Eastwood referring to how Sinn Féin’s seven MPs don’t sit in the House of Commons said, “I will not sit idly by as our interests are undermined. Brexit can be stopped at Westminster. SDLP MPs will vote to stop Brexit.”

The Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the general election was “an opportunity to reject the DUP, reject the Tories and reject the destructive role of Westminster on the North of Ireland”.

She repeated that there was no good Brexit for Ireland. “Westminster is in chaos. It has no answers and no solutions. The Brexit debacle has shown that Westminster cannot, has not and will never act in the interests of the people of the North.”