UUP leader Sir Reg Empey has expressed disappointment after sole MP Sylvia Hermon distanced herself from the party's link with the Conservatives.
THE political future of the Ulster Unionists' Lady Sylvia Hermon, was uncertain is now uncertain after she said she would not stand on a joint Conservative ticket in the next General Election.
In a thinly-veiled display of frustration towards the North Down MP, UUP leader Sir Reg Empey expressed "disappointment that Lady Hermon, in the middle of an election campaign, has chosen to give a series of interviews in which she has challenged party policy and the collective decisions taken by her colleagues".
Earlier, Lady Hermon, who had previously remained silent on the UUP's decision to jointly fight elections with the Tories, said: "I won't be standing under a Conservative or a Tory banner. I'm not a Tory."
When asked about the Conservative link, Lady Hermon said "the straight answer is that I'm not a Tory, I've never been a Tory".
And, asked about the name which will appear on ballot papers for joint UUP-Tory candidates – 'Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force' –Lady Hermon said: "I certainly don't like the title of the New Force – it's a dreadful, stupid, silly name to have given it."
In a statement, Sir Reg said that the North Down UUP constituency association had been fully represented at the party's meetings where the UUP-Tory link was ratified, and had unanimously backed the plan.
Speaking of Lady Hermon, he said: "Her own position is not an issue in the present campaign.
"She was assured last year that she would not be required to take the Conservative Party whip in the lifetime of the present Parliament.
"Candidate selection for the General Election is not yet under way, meaning that any decisions regarding her own selection process in North Down do not have to be made at this point.
"This makes the timing of her statements all the more disappointing."
Alliance leader David Ford declined to comment on "hypothetical" speculation that if Lady Hermon were to stand as an independent, his party would not put up a candidate, as happened in 2001 when she first took the seat from Bob McCartney.
"She has expressed reservations which I know are held by a number of others in the UUP," he said.
"Obviously it's up to her to decide her political future and she certainly has not come to talk to us yet although it sounds to me as if she is indicating in some senses that she is perhaps closer to Alliance than to where the UUP is going with the Conservatives."
The comments from Lady Hermon came during a series of interviews about her expenses claims after she became the first Ulster MP to proactively reveal that she had made an erroneous claim for expenses.
The UUP MP revealed on Wednesday that she had inadvertantly been overpaid two months allowance totalling 2,730 for a London flat.