Unionist leaders to meet to discuss election pacts

Robin Swann announced that the UUP would not run candidates in North and West Belfast and Foyle
Robin Swann announced that the UUP would not run candidates in North and West Belfast and Foyle

The leaders of the two main unionist parties – Arlene Foster and Robin Swann – are expected to meet on Monday to discuss the possibility of forming electoral pacts.

It comes after the Ulster Unionists decided not to field candidates in three constituencies in Northern Ireland in the forthcoming general election, in an effort to help other parties defeat Sinn Fein.

The UUP has withdrawn from the race in North and West Belfast and in Foyle.

The party executive has also agreed that its two outgoing MPs – Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan – will again be the party’s candidates in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and South Antrim respectively.

There is an expectation that, like the 2015 general election, the UUP will again enter a pact with the DUP in a number of constituencies.

The previous pact saw the UUP agree not to contest North and East Belfast, while the DUP agreed not to contest Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Newry and Armagh.

Three of the four targeted seats were won by the agreed unionist candidate, with the pact only failing to produce victory in Newry and Armagh.

In North Belfast, the DUP’s Nigel Dodds benefited from the pact, winning the seat with 47% of the vote.

West Belfast has long been held by Sinn Fein, while Foyle is considered the SDLP’s safest seat.

UUP leader Mr Swann said the decision not to run in the three constituencies was designed to increase the chances of returning candidates who take their seats in Westminster, unlike abstentionist Sinn Fein MPs.

Mr Swann said: “The rationale behind it is we want to see and we want to hear 18 Northern Ireland voices in Westminster.

“Because going forward going into the negotiations around Brexit and what’s going to happen around the future of Northern Ireland and our Executive it is important that there are 18 MPs taking their seats and we need those voices to be heard.”

After the UUP executive meeting in east Belfast on Saturday morning, Mr Swann was also pressed on media speculation that former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt would run in South Belfast and party veteran Danny Kennedy would stand in Upper Bann.

Mr Swann said Mr Elliott and Mr Kinahan were the only two candidates selected to date.

“We haven’t selected candidates for any other constituency as of yet,” he said.

The News Letter asked the UUP press office to comment on the speculation surrounding Mr Nesbitt, but they declined to respond.