Belfast Telegraph

DUP and UUP leaders meet to discuss possible election pact

The leaders of the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists have met to discuss a possible pact for the General Election.

Arlene Foster and Robin Swann held their first meeting to explore the potential of joining forces in a bid to return the maximum number of unionist MPs to Westminster.

A spokesperson for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) confirmed that the meeting took place late on Monday afternoon.

The meeting got off to a shaky start after Mr Swann criticised Mrs Foster for being "a bit arrogant" in remarks she made in a newspaper about her party's position on a unionist pact.

He also said the meeting had been made "more difficult" by Mrs Foster outlining her position in the publication before she had spoken to him.

Mrs Foster had said that the DUP would not stand in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, but wanted a clear run in South Belfast.

In the last general election, the DUP and UUP agreed pacts in four constituencies.

The pact helped Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott win the seat from Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew.

On Saturday, the UUP announced it would not be running candidates in North Belfast, West Belfast and Foyle.

Mrs Foster said she welcomed that decision and that she wanted to "maximise unionist representation at Westminster".

"The Democratic Unionist Party will work with other like-minded parties and groups who share our goal of supporting the Union and who want to work to maximise Unionist representation at Westminster," she wrote in the Belfast Telegraph.

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he remained open to discussing ways to co-operate with other pro-Remain parties to ensure the defeat of Brexiteer candidates.

He insisted it was not about unionism versus nationalism.

"I am not interested in that, that's not what I am talking about," he said.

"I am talking about people here sending a message not only to Theresa May but to politicians at the heart of Europe that Northern Ireland is for Europe, Northern Ireland is for remain, Northern Ireland is against a hard border on this island and against a hard Tory, hard Brexit outcome."

Asked whether he envisaged parties standing aside to let others have a free run, or the selection of non-aligned independent candidates that pro-Remain parties could all support, he suggested either were possible.

"I don't think there is one easy fit for every single consistency," he said, adding that "creative solutions" were needed.

He urged Sinn Fein, the Alliance party and other fellow Remainers to put party interests to one side.

"This is not a normal election - this is an election about Brexit," he said.

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