Ulster Unionists announce 16 candidates for General Election
The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has announced it will run candidates in 16 constituencies across Northern Ireland.
Steve Aiken had previously suggested the party would run in all of the region’s 18 constituencies.
He later rowed back from that position following pressure in North Belfast and from unionist rivals over standing a candidate against Democratic Unionist deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who is expected to face a tight race against Sinn Fein’s John Finucane.
The other constituency which the UUP will not run in is West Belfast, a seat which has traditionally been dominated by Sinn Fein with only a small unionist vote.
Mr Aiken also came under pressure for his party to stand aside in South Belfast where the DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly is expected to come under pressure from SDLP candidate Claire Hanna.
Sinn Fein and the Green Party have stepped aside in South Belfast for Ms Hanna as a remain candidate in the Brexit debate.
Mr Aiken described next month’s poll as the “most important election in generations” and said he wants to offer pro-union voters a choice.
“The future direction of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland’s place within it is at stake,” he said.
“Three years on from the EU referendum we are offered a deal that puts a border up the Irish Sea and weakens the United Kingdom.
“The Ulster Unionist Party is clear, if we are being asked to leave the European Union with the current disastrous deal then we are better to remain and protect our United Kingdom.
“We want to offer pro-Union voters a choice. A choice between Ulster Unionist candidates who will offer a positive, progressive vision for unionism, protecting our place within the United Kingdom and the DUP who have dropped the ball, allowing a border to be put up the Irish Sea and dragged the reputation of unionism into the gutter.
“I am proud to offer a slate of candidates who will stand up for positive, progressive, pro-Union values and ensure Northern Ireland is a modern, vibrant part of a modern, vibrant United Kingdom.”
Meanwhile, the SDLP announced it has completed the nomination of the 15 candidates it will run.
The SDLP previously announced it was stepping aside in three constituencies in support of other remain candidates. Those are North Belfast, East Belfast and North Down.