Sir Jeffrey Dondaldson has expressed his disappointment that new Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has talked down the prospect of closer cooperation between the main unionist parties.
The DUP MP was commenting after Mr Swann told the UUP’s AGM at the weekend that he wasn’t interested in rejoining the Stormont Executive if the new arrangements were solely for the benefit of the DUP and Sinn Fein.
Mr Swann also dismissed calls for a single unionist party to counter the recent electoral success of Sinn Fein.
In response, Mr Donaldson said the UUP had benefited from close cooperation – particularly in Fermanagh and South Tyrone where Tom Elliott.
“I am disappointed, but of course we recognise there isn’t going to be a single unionist party in the short term. We do believe that most unionists want to see greater cooperation between the two main unionist parties, particularly when it comes to elections.
“We did this at the last general election with good effect and increased the number of unionist MPs returned to Westminster. When we didn’t have that cooperation in the recent assembly elections we saw a reduction in the number of unionist MLAs at Stormont.
Mr Donaldson added: “When one considers that [Ulster Unionist] Tom Elliott is entirely reliant for his seat upon that kind of unionist cooperation, I can’t understand why Robin Swann would want to abandon cooperation at that level.
“I believe it is in the interest of both parties, and unionism generally, that we seek to maximise unionist representation in all elected bodies and I do hope that the UUP will give this further thought.”
In his speech to the AGM on Saturday, Mr Swann said: “A single unionist party would limit choice, stifle debate and quickly result in the depletion of unionist votes at the ballot box.
“I am in the Ulster Unionist Party – we are in the Ulster Unionist Party – because we believe in its vision, its policies and its priorities.”
The North Antrim MLA added: “It would also run the risk of driving those who consider themselves unionists, but only with a small U, into the arms of a party which is at best agnostic to the union, and it would leave many others with no-one to vote for at all.”