UUP leader considers position after poll defeat

The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party said he considered his position after a failed European election campaign.

Robin Swann said he had decided not to stand down “at this moment in time”, and would not be “running away” from the responsibility.

The UUP was swept away in an Alliance Party surge, losing a European seat it had held for 40 years.

The 53,052 first preference votes secured by UUP candidate Danny Kennedy was only half the haul of 105,928 votes secured by Alliance leader Naomi Long.

Euro elections
Euro elections

The party trailed in in sixth place, with the SDLP and Traditional Unionist Voice also polling better than a party that was once the preeminent force in Northern Ireland politics. Alliance, the DUP and Sinn Fein took the three seats.

“I take responsibility for it because I think that’s what a responsible and accountable leader has to do,” said Mr Swann.

In an interview on BBC Radio Ulster, Mr Swann was asked whether the result made him consider if he was the right person to lead the party.

“After yesterday’s results there are a lot of questions going through my mind. It is one of them – I’ll not deny it,” he said.

“But, at this moment in time I am the leader. If the party wants to go in a different direction I am big enough to take that and the party is big enough to take that.

“I didn’t take on the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party because of ego or any sense of self-importance.

“I took it on because I thought there was a job of work to do, I thought there was a job of work I could do, there is still a job of work to do and I think I can still continue doing that.

“So, look, it’s up to the party to decide – we’re bigger than one man and I’m big enough to do whatever needs to be done for the good of the Ulster Unionist Party.”

Alliance leader @naomi_long embraced by jubilant supporters who chant “Yes, she did” as she is confirmed as an MEP having secured 106k first preference votes and 170k votes after transfers. pic.twitter.com/70GyXgSuqv

— David Young (@DavidYoungPA) May 27, 2019

Some believe the UUP entered the campaign with a confusing position on Brexit.

The UUP campaigned for Remain in 2016, but the party now advocates for Brexit – insisting the result of the referendum must be respected.

So Mr Kennedy, a Remain voter three years ago, found himself advocating for the UK’s exit for the EU on the campaign trail.

European Parliament election
European Parliament election

The result, many believe, was that thousands of unionist remainers shifted their support to Alliance on polling day.

Thousands of nationalists also transferred votes to the pro-Remain Mrs Long.

Alliance’s vote share soared by 11% while the UUP’s dropped by 4%.

Mr Swann, who took over as leader from Mike Nesbitt in 2017, said he would not be stepping down at “this moment in time”.

“I am not stepping down – I’m not running away from the responsibility the party gave me at the last AGM,” he said.

“I consider I am the man at this moment in time that’s in the post and there is nobody calling for me to go anywhere at this minute in time.

“But, look, the Ulster Unionist Party is bigger than one individual and we have to learn from yesterday’s results.”