David Cameron wants UUP members in future government
David Cameron wants Northern Ireland MPs from the Ulster Unionist Party serving in a future Conservative government at Westminster, he said today.
In an address to the UUP annual general meeting in Belfast the Tory leader said: "I believe the time is right for Northern Ireland to be brought back into the mainstream of United Kingdom politics."
Last year the two parties announced an electoral pact which will see joint candidates standing at European and national elections.
Re-emphasising his commitment to the link Mr Cameron told the AGM: "I want MPs from Northern Ireland serving in a Conservative Government at Westminster. I want to draw on the talents of people from all parts of the United Kingdom. That's my selfish strategic interest.
"Northern Ireland can move on from focusing on constitutional battles, because the constitutional issue is settled."
Mr Cameron, speaking in a pre-recorded video message because he was attending the Conservative Party Spring conference in Cheltenham, said the debate in Northern Ireland now needed to be about the economy, jobs, mortgages, pensions and public services - all issues which affected people as much in the province as in other parts of the UK.
As the UUP launched its campaign to get Jim Nicholson returned again as one of Northern Ireland's three MEPs Mr Cameron said it was essential he was re-elected.
He said it would be the first test of the political alliance and added: "It is vital that we get Jim Nicholson returned to the European Parliament and for him to take his place as part of the strong Conservative team of MEPs.
"He will be part of the only group of UK MEPs committed to co-operating in Europe rather than centralising more power there; and to bringing some powers back to the UK where they belong.
"Jim has my full backing as the joint candidate of the Conservatives and Unionists at these elections, and I look forward to campaigning with him next month."
UUP leader Sir Reg Empey told the conference that by working with the Conservatives the party could offer Northern Ireland something more substantial than that of a small regional party which could only lobby.
"We can offer the prospect of placing Northern Ireland and Unionism at the very heart of British politics. We provide voters here with the opportunity to have a real voice in national politics."
In doing so, he said, they were opening the door for all those people who had opted out of politics in Northern Ireland and opted out of voting.
"The greatest challenge to the Union doesn't come - as the DUP would have us believe - from a split in the unionist vote. It comes from the cold, hard mathematical reality that increasing numbers from within the pro-union electorate are not voting.
"There may be all sorts of reasons for the fact that they have not been voting - yet among those reasons may be the fact that they think that a vote for a purely local party or a small group of a national party is a wasted vote," said Sir Reg.
The link up with the Conservatives was about encouraging more to become involved in politics and convincing them their vote counted and their voice would be heard - that Northern Ireland was no longer a place apart when it came to deciding the great issues of national, European and international importance.
Jim Nicholson said he wanted to top the poll in the Euro elections on June 4, not just to do down Sinn Fein or the DUP, but as proof the people of Northern Ireland were expressing a desire for change.
"I want to top it as proof that there is support for a broader agenda that the 'us-and-them' approach of purely local parties who offer nothing more than their own narrow vision.
"I want to top it, too, to send a shockwave across the DUP bows and let them know that increasing numbers of us are sick sore and tired of their hypocrisy and cynicism."