Claire Sugden declines Doug Beattie's invite as Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston joins UUP ranks
FORMER Stormont justice minister Claire Sugden has not ruled out joining the Ulster Unionists at some point in the future.
The independent unionist is reported to have turned down a recent request from newly-crowned UUP leader Doug Beattie to join his party's ranks.
The East Derry MLA said she had been elected as an independent and has no plans to join any party but has not ruled out the possibility in the future.
"I have built up a strong profile as an independent MLA over the past seven years and to move now would put all that hard work at risk," she told the BBC.
"Doug Beattie is an impressive leader but he is just starting out on that journey so it is too soon to judge what impact he will have on the party."
Ms Sugden worked for former UUP turned independent David McClarty and was co-opted into his Stormont seat following his death in 2014.
She served as the executive's justice minister from for 10 months to March 2017.
The UUP announced yesterday that former Progressive Unionist Party councillor Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston has joined the party.
She plans to stand as a candidate in north Belfast in the next Stormont election.
Mr Beattie said said the recruitment of Mrs Corr-Johnston "shows that we are building a team who want to build a union of people and who share a vision for a modern, accepting Northern Ireland".
The former councillor said she identified as a loyalist and believed unionism "is an ideology that can be shared by people from many identities".
She said the north Belfast constituency "needs change".
"The area continues to rank amongst the worst levels of social deprivation, high levels of our young people are leaving school without employment skills, we need more and better quality social homes and a chilling number of our people are being lost to suicide," she said.
"I believe that with the UUP I can make a real and lasting difference to north Belfast."