DUP springs a surprise bid to unseat Lady Sylvia Hermon from North Down
The DUP is to make a surprise bid to oust Lady Sylvia Hermon as the MP for North Down, it can be revealed.
It was expected that the sitting MP would be given a clear run by the main unionist parties in the General Election - but it has now been confirmed that DUP Assemblyman Alex Easton will run against her.
It is understood that the party sees no reason not to oppose Lady Hermon as she would not take the DUP whip after the election.
The UUP had already indicated that they would not oppose the sitting MP, who first won the seat as an Ulster Unionist.
She quit the UUP over its pact with the Conservatives in the 2010 General Election.
Peter Robinson's party kept out of the North Down contest in 2010, which helped ensure Lady Sylvia held the seat comfortably.
Instead, the then-combined Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force (UCUNF) ran against her. But its candidate Ian Parsley gained only around 7,000 votes compared to Lady Hermon's total of more than 21,000.
Mr Robinson said: "This election is an opportunity of a lifetime for Northern Ireland. Our MPs could hold the balance of power in Parliament. It's important we send a team that will work together and get the best deal. The DUP is the only party with a plan for after the election.
"It doesn't matter where I travel in North Down I invariably meet people who Alex has helped. I'm delighted that he will be the standard-bearer for the party in this unique election."
The DUP has run candidates in North Down before - Peter Weir MLA was 5,000 votes behind Lady Hermon in the 2005 election.
She declined to comment yesterday when contacted.
But the DUP said yesterday Mr Easton could defeat Lady Hermon, who was first elected in 2001.
First elected as a DUP MLA in 2003, Mr Easton subsequently topped the poll in both the 2007 and 2011 Assembly elections.
He said: "With the prospect of a hung parliament, the next North Down MP needs to part of a larger team to wield real influence in the Commons."
Last month UUP leader Mike Nesbitt MLA said: "The right thing for North Down in this Westminster Election is to get behind Lady Hermon. Sylvia shares the same values as us."
Meanwhile, former UUP MP Rev Martin Smyth has again snubbed his former party by signing the nomination papers for its main unionist rival.
In the past Mr Smyth, who was a UUP MP for South Belfast for 23 years, signed the nomination papers for the DUP's Jimmy Spratt.
He signed the nomination papers in South Belfast for the DUP's Jonathan Bell, despite canvassing for its candidate Rodney McCune in the past in North Antrim.
A UUP spokesman said: "Martin Smyth endorsed Rodney McCune for South Belfast a couple of weeks ago. That remains the case. Ulster Unionists are the only pro-Union candidates to have won South Belfast in the past and we are best placed to do so in the future."
A party statement quoted Mr Smyth saying Mr McCune "would make not only a more than acceptable candidate for Ulster Unionism, but a fine representative for the people of South Belfast".