A Northern Ireland MP could be a future British Prime Minister under an Ulster Unionist backed Conservative government, William Hague has claimed.
The Tories' electoral link-up with the UUP would give the regional party's representatives the ability to obtain the highest political office in the country, the shadow foreign secretary said.
Outlining the possibilities opened up by the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists New Force (UCUNF) at the launch of the parties' joint manifesto in Co Antrim, Mr Hague said: "Any of our candidates elected here will take their place as part of David Cameron's team with exactly the same rights and responsibilities as Conservatives from Scotland, Wales, England... and Yorkshire.
"And any of them will have exactly the same opportunity to serve as a minister as MPs from anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
"Imagine the message that would be sent around the world if, in time, the Foreign Secretary or the Home Secretary, the Environment Secretary or even the Prime Minister in a UK Government sat for a constituency in Northern Ireland.
"There would be no better way of saying that the semi-detached status of Northern Ireland had come to an end and that Northern Ireland was back in the mainstream of British politics."
At the event in Newtownabbey, the former Tory leader attempted to defuse some of the controversy surrounding David Cameron's remarks last week when he said the size of the pubic sector in Northern Ireland was unsustainable.
Mr Hague said this did not mean the Conservatives were lining up a series of major cutbacks in the region, as claimed by political rivals, instead insisting that a re-balancing of the public and private sectors would be done in a phased way.
"We want to re-balance the Northern Ireland economy to end its over-dependence on the public sector," he said. "But we recognise that it will take time, perhaps as long as 25 years. To do nothing would be irresponsible. But to do anything too quickly would be a reckless too."
The joint manifesto was launched in the heart of the South Antrim seat that UUP leader Sir Reg Empey is hoping to wrest from the Democratic Unionists in the May poll.