Northern Ireland

Steve Aiken dismisses rumours of retirement and reveals Westminster ambitions

Former Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA
Former Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Former Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA

Former Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken has scotched rumours of his imminent departure from politics and revealed ambitions to stand in the forthcoming Westminster election.

The South Antrim MLA, who led the party for 18 months up to May 2021, told The Irish News he has "no plans to quit".

Speculation about the former submariner's commitment to Stormont was fuelled by remarks from commentator and former UUP press officer Alex Kane. 

The Irish News' columnist told last Thursday's episode of BBC's The View: "My understanding is he's leaving politics.

"Unless I've completely got this wrong, his electoral career is over." 

Read more: John Manley: 'Submarine Steve' Aiken plumbs new depths for rudderless unionism

Steve Aiken resigns as Ulster Unionist Party leader


Mr Aiken's local paper this week reported sources saying the one-time CEO of the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce was "involved in a consultancy firm that has placed considerable demands on his time".

The Antrim Guardian also suggested the South Antrim MLA was absent from the Remembrance Day parade in Antrim, where on several occasions in the past he has laid a wreath on behalf of the UUP.

But Mr Aiken has insisted that news of his demise has been greatly exaggerated.

On Tuesday, he said he was at event about nature recovery and was "getting ready for the assembly coming back so we can get some good environmental legislation in place".

He said he planned to see out the mandate as an MLA and stand in the next Stormont election, scheduled for 2027.

"I'll be standing in the next assembly election if the good people of South Antrim want me," he said.

Danny Kinahan wins the South Antrim seat for the UUP in 2015
Danny Kinahan wins the South Antrim seat for the UUP in 2015 Danny Kinahan wins the South Antrim seat for the UUP in 2015

Mr Aiken also revealed that he hoped to be the UUP's candidate in South Antrim in the next general election.

"I'm also looking forward to standing in the Westminster election as well, but of course the party has a process, so hopefully I'm selected," he said.

The former Ulster Unionist chief whip served 32 years in the Royal Navy, before retiring in 2011. He was elected to Stormont in 2016 and became leader of the UUP three years later following Robin Swann's surprise resignation.

The Ulster Unionists won a shock victory in South Antrim in 2015 when Danny Kinahan unseated William McCrea. The DUP's Paul Girvan regained the seat in 2017.