UUP comes under pressure over unionist electoral pact stance

The incoming leader of the Ulster Unionist Party is coming under increasing pressure on his stance over a unionist electoral pact.

Steve Aiken has said that his party will stand candidates in all 18 Westminster seats set to be contested on December 12.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claimed the stance will mean a “unionist dogfight”, and warned this could risk unionists losing seats to Sinn Fein.

Unionist rival the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) said agreed unionist candidates in certain constituencies is a “no-brainer”.

A unionist pact saw Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott win the Fermanagh South Tyrone Westminster seat in 2015. However, Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew won the seat back for her party in 2017.

The DUP is understood to be keen to pursue the arrangement in North Belfast where deputy leader Nigel Dodds’ narrow majority is expected to come under pressure from Sinn Fein’s John Finucane.

Mr Aiken said his party will run candidates in all 18 constituencies, “because we cannot in all right turn round and say to the people of Northern Ireland: ‘Vote for a pact with the DUP, support the DUP – the party who put a border down the Irish Sea.'”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has warned against a unionist dogfight which could see Sinn Fein gain seats (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Donaldson told the BBC on Wednesday: “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.

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

Later, a TUV spokesman said: “As TUV determines its position over the coming days regarding the upcoming general election, one thing is clear to us – the folly of gifting seats to Sinn Fein. Any party that sets such a course is not serving the Union.

“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.

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

Meanwhile, a suggested pro-remain electoral pact does not appear to have been agreed.

Sinn Fein proposed the move last month as it announced the selection of Mr Finucane to run against Mr Dodds in North Belfast.

The party’s vice president Michelle O’Neill has indicated that there have been conversations on the matter between parties.

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