Northern Ireland news

Ulster Unionists' manifesto advocates 'common sense solutions' to protocol issues

UUP leader Doug Beattie at his party's manifesto launch. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE ULSTER Unionist Party has called for a "common sense solution" to issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol while acknowledging that there are "some benefits to having access to the EU single market".

The party's assembly election manifesto includes a series of proposals to ensure the post-Brexit trade arrangements result in fewer checks, including removing medicines from the scope of the protocol, however, it says the UUP "cannot accept an internal border within the United Kingdom".

Launched yesterday on the quayside at HMS Caroline in Belfast's Titanic Quarter, the manifesto makes no mention of the constitutional issues and instead prioritises health, the economy, infrastructure and education.

Speaking to an audience that included most the UUP's 27 assembly candidates, covering all 18 constituencies, party leader Doug Beattie said there would not be a united Ireland in his or his children's lifetime and he urged the electorate to set aside the constitutional question.

"If you believe that as a fundamental truth, and I believe that as a fundamental truth, then we can set it aside in order to concentrate on the issues affecting the daily lives of our people who live here, work here or visit here," he said.

"So, I make an appeal to all of those who believe in Northern Ireland, in its long-term future within the United Kingdom, to put their shoulder to the wheel, to raise your voices and promote the positives while we work together to deal with the negatives – we need to show our young people that coming out to vote gives them a voice and it is part of their civic duty."

However, again the Upper Bann MLA refused to unambiguously state if he would serve under Michelle O'Neill as first minister, an approach that has drawn criticism from nationalists.

Asked by The Irish News to clarify whether in principle he would take the deputy first minister's post if the first minister was a nationalist, he simply said his party had "absolutely no issue" who comes out on top in the May 5 poll.

"That is not the point – the point is that at the end of the election there has to be a negotiation on how we go forward... and it could end up we decide that the best place to be is in opposition," he said.

Pressed further, he said: "There's no objection because whoever wins is the winner."

Mr Beattie, who earlier this week had the window of his Co Armagh office smashed after announcing his party was withdrawing from anti-protocol protests, said failure to resolve issues around the post-Brexit trading arrangements would not prevent his party from re-entering the executive.

He dismissed claims that the protocol altered the north's constitutional status.

"Regardless of what others are saying, there will be no fundamental change to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom," he said.

"Issues around the protocol can and will be dealt with. So, instead of using the protocol as an election slogan, let's get to work, real work, to get the issues dealt with."

Elsewhere in a wide-ranging manifesto, the UUP makes pledges on LGBTQ rights, housing and tackling the cost-of-living crisis.

The party argues for a cut in fuel duty and an additional rebate for essential car users, such as carers, while also calling for regulation of the home heating oil market.

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