The UUP will not countenance moves towards a single unionist party, leader Robin Swann has said.
In his first in-depth interview with the News Letter since taking up the post in April, Mr Swann said that the DUP had approached him personally “numerous” time in the past in an attempt to get him to join.
But the North Antrim MLA said that he had no intention of amalgamating with what is now Nothern Ireland’s dominant unionist party.
In June’s general election, the DUP took almost 300,000 votes while the UUP polled 83,280 – the worst ever elecotral result for the party which built Northern Ireland.
Three months previously, the party also polled badly in the Assembly election, where it returned with just 10 MLAs to the DUP’s 28.
In the wake of March’s stinging psychological blow to unionism – where for the first time in the history of Northern Ireland a unionist majority at Stormont was not returned – there were renewed calls from some unionist figures for unionist unity and an abandonment of old intra-unionist disputes.
Over the last decade there have been several secret attempts to engineer unionist unity in which senior UUP and DUP figures – and in one case, the Orange Order – have been involved. But, despite his more traditional UUP background, Mr Swann firmly ruled out such a scenario.
He told the News Letter: “One unionist party is not on the cards for me because the unionist people is not a homogeneous group that go in one direction; in fact, we’re probably the other way round – if we’d one party tomorrow, we’d probably have three on Wednesday.
“We’re different from the DUP; our unionism is different from the DUP’s and we’ve always had a different style and a different stance on a number of issues that appeal to a section of the unionist electorate.”
However, he said that “on matters of the Union, I can see us standing on the same page”.
He said that the DUP had approached him multiple times asking him to join: “I’m an Ulster Unionist from [Ian Paisley’s heartland of] North Antrim – if I’d wanted to join the DUP, it would been very simple; it’s not for the lack of offers in the past.
“I don’t see me taking the UUP anywhere that takes us in that direction.”