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Plans for DUP rebel Bell to run for UUP 'news to me', says Mike Nesbitt

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt has described a Belfast Telegraph report DUP rebel Jonathan Bell is to return to his party to stand for election as "news to him".

On Monday this newspaper reported that the Strangford MLA  is to be invited to rejoin the Ulster Unionist Party and stand as one of their candidates in the next election.

An Ulster Unionist insider told the Belfast Telegraph: "Party officers are keen to talk to Jonathan about his future plans.

"He has polled well in the past and could be an asset to the party. If things work out, I expect him to be fighting the next Assembly election on an Ulster Unionist ticket."

More: DUP rebel Jonathan Bell could return to UUP for looming election

Responding, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the claims were "news to him".

However, be did not completely rule out a return for the politician.

"There are no plans for Jonathan Bell to run as an Ulster Unionist," he told the BBC.

Strangford MLA and former Enterprise Minister Bell will almost certainly part company with the DUP after being suspended for his highly-publicised spat with party leader Arlene Foster over who was responsible for the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

Mr Bell - who defected from the UUP almost 17 years ago - stoked the fires of the scandal in a televised interview with the BBC's Stephen Nolan.

He later said he would sue Mrs Foster after the now ex-First Minister made comments about him in another TV interview in connection with the 'cash for ash' controversy threatening to bring down the devolved institutions at Stormont.

Mr Bell defected from the Ulster Unionists to the DUP in 2000 - four years before his former friend Mrs Foster made a similar journey. At the time he was a councillor and had served as Mayor at Craigavon Borough Council, but resigned after growing dissatisfied with the leadership of David Trimble.

He was selected by the DUP as MLA for Strangford in 2010 - replacing Iris Robinson - and promoted to Enterprise Minister five years later, succeeding Mrs Foster.

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