General Election

DUP's Westminster 'monopoly' has damaged pro-union politics says Steve Aiken

Steve Aiken said the DUP 'blew it' when presented with unprecedented influence at Westminster. Picture by Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press

PRO-union politics has been damaged to an unprecedented degree by the DUP's Westminster "monopoly", Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken has said.

The South Antrim MLA believes his party's larger unionist rival "conceded a massive strategic own goal" when it agreed to a regulatory border in the Irish Sea and that Boris Johnson has demonstrated a willingness to "cut Northern Ireland loose".

Mr Aiken was speaking yesterday as the UUP launched its general election manifesto in Belfast.

The party which once dominated regional politics but currently has no representation at Westminster, is fielding 16 candidates in next week's poll.

The newly-appointed leader had initially pledged to run candidates in all 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland before quickly succumbing to pressure to withdraw from North Belfast, where DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds faces a close challenge from Sinn Féin's John Finucane.

The UUP is also choosing not to contest West Belfast, where the collective unionist vote tends to be fractional.

Mr Aiken described the UK's decision to leave the European Union as the "biggest political earthquake our nation has experienced since the Second World War" and said the deal negotiated by Boris Johnson would be "totally disastrous for Northern Ireland".

The Ulster Unionist leader said it was better to remain in the EU than accept the withdrawal agreement in its current guise.

He accused Sinn Féin's MPs of being "nothing more than political commentators on the evening news", while the DUP "blew it" when presented with unprecedented influence at Westminster.

"They (the DUP) had the monopoly on unionist opinion in the House of Commons for two years, yet it is hard to remember a time when pro-union politics was so damaged," he said.

Mr Aiken said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was "totally unfit to enter 10 Downing Street" and that the UUP would not support a government with the Islington North MP at its head.

He said fundamental reform was required ahead of any restoration of devolution but if parties were not willing to "embrace open, transparent and accountable politics" then the secretary of state needed to act.

"This farce cannot continue for another calendar year – if by mid-January there is still not agreement then direct rule must be implemented," he said.

"We cannot just sit back while public services spiral into further crisis and deal with the fallout of Brexit with one hand tied behind our back. If politicians here aren't willing to take up their responsibilities, then they should be relieved of their duties and direct rule minister put in place."

The Ulster Unionist manifesto also calls for a healthcare emergency to be declared, money for more police officers, a call for a single education system, ambitious environmental action targets including for net zero carbon emissions by 2035 and opposition to the Historical Investigations Unit.

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General Election