Belfast Telegraph

Sole candidate Robin Swann in line to become new Ulster Unionist leader

By David Young

North Antrim MLA Robin Swann looks certain to be the next leader of the Ulster Unionist Party after running as the sole candidate to take over from outgoing chief Mike Nesbitt.

Nominations for the party leadership closed yesterday and Mr Nesbitt indicated he would step aside following the party's lacklustre performance in the recent Assembly elections.

Mr Swann (45) announced his leadership bid yesterday afternoon via social media.

"I can confirm that I have submitted papers today to seek election as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, after receiving support from across the party including members of our Westminster, Assembly and local government teams and I look forward to our annual general meeting on the 8th of April," he said on Facebook.

It's expected that the Kells man will be confirmed as leader at the party's AGM, which takes place in a fortnight.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Mr Swann said that becoming party leader had never been on his political career plan - but he had decided to seize the opportunity presented by Mr Nesbitt's decision to step down.

"Party leader was never a position I ever envisaged myself in, at any stage in politics," he said.

"But there's an opportunity at this minute in time - and the time's right. I think I have a strong message to give unionism across Northern Ireland and it's something I want to do for the Ulster Unionist Party."

Mr Swann said he had support from across the Ulster Unionist Party for his leadership bid.

"I got the support of the Assembly team, both our MPs, the chairman of our councillors' association, and the chairman of QUB Young Unionists, as well as party members.

"To get that level of support and endorsement within a party the size of the Ulster Unionist Party, with roughly 2,000 members, is humbling.

"And once my name started to get out there, people began to contact me to support my candidacy for the leadership."

He offered a straightforward message of positivity to party members and voters.

"My message has always been simple - it's about a positive, progressive unionism. A unionism that can work with people, and embrace everyone and bring them forward.

"We have to be confident enough to sell the Union and the benefits of it, and look outside our areas of comfort. That's what I try to do and what I hope to do as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

"For talks to progress, we need a strong centre ground in Northern Ireland, and the Ulster Unionist Party must be part of that."

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