Northern Ireland

Reform UK’s Ben Habib doesn’t want to give the DUP a ‘bloody nose’ but agrees unionism may lose Westminster seats

Multi-millionaire businessman and former MEP says Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party needs to ‘rediscover its moral compass’


Reform UK deputy leader Ben Habib has said doesn’t want to give the DUP a “bloody nose” in the forthcoming general election but concedes his party’s deal with the TUV could see fewer unionists at Westminster.

The former Brexit Party MEP was speaking days after Reform UK and the TUV signed a co-operation agreement that will see them stand candidates in all 18 of the north’s Westminster constituencies. It has yet to be agreed where each party’s candidates will run.

However, it has been speculated that the joint venture could lead to a splitting of the unionist vote and ultimately mean fewer DUP MPs are returned.

DUP deputy leader Gavin Robinson’s East Belfast seat is thought to be especially vulnerable to a challenge from Alliance.

Mr Robinson retained the seat in 2019 with a 8,474 majority. However, the TUV did not contest that election.

Mr Habib said the DUP needed to “rediscover its moral compass”.

&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13.3333px;">Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, John McGregor, Jamie Bryson</span><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13.3333px;">, Kate Hoey and Ben Habib during an anti-Northern Ireland protocol rally and parade, organised by North Antrim Amalgamated Orange Committee, in Ballymoney, Co Antrim. Picture by</span><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 13.3333px;">&nbsp;Liam McBurney/PA Wire</span>
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, John McGregor, Jamie Bryson, Kate Hoey and Ben Habib during an anti-Northern Ireland protocol rally and parade IN 2022. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA

“I think that if you’re advocating turning a blind eye to implementing a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a degree of introspection is required by the DUP to determine whether or not they’re still a unionist party,” he told The Irish News.

“By saying the Irish Sea border is gone they’ve sought to undermine the ability of people like myself and Traditional Unionist Voice to make the case against the Irish Sea border – so they’ve not only misrepresented the facts they’ve created a bigger hurdle for those of us who wish the Irish Sea border genuinely gone.”

In 2022, the Pakistan-born multi-millionaire businessman donated £30,000 each to the DUP and the TUV for their Stormont election campaigns.

He plans to bankroll only the TUV ahead of the general election but has declined to say how much he will commit.

“I’ll do whatever I reasonably can financially to assist them,” he said.

Mr Habib said there are “very many good people in the DUP” and that he did not wish to give them a “bloody nose” in the election but wanted “to do what’s right by the United Kingdom”.

“What I would really like frankly is for the DUP to rediscover its moral compass, to call the Irish Sea border out for what it is, and to prevent the schism in unionism,” he said.

The former MEP, who advocates a ‘smart border’ between the north and the Republic, said he didn’t believe Sir Jeffrey Donaldson had secured any substantive changes to the protocol, because the EU would not have permitted a breach of the Withdrawal Agreement treaty.

“I could have understood it if the DUP had said they were reluctantly going back into Stormont because their MLAs salaries had been cut and they were under public pressure,” he said.

The Reform UK co-deputy leader believes that the partnership with the TUV will draw support from a demographic that is “anti-woke”.

“The vast majority of the people who live in the British Isles are small-c conservative and they want the promotion of private enterprise and the protection of their national cultures,” he said.

“They want to feel safe down the streets; they don’t want diversity, equality and inclusion being used as a mechanism to promote minorities to the detriment of the majority.”