The Ulster Unionist link-up with the Conservative Party was further damaged last night as one of the party’s most senior figures quit over the electoral pact.
MLA Alan McFarland, who formerly ran for the leadership of the party, resigned because he said the alliance was detrimental to unionist interests in Northern Ireland.
In another blow to the UUP it has also emerged that Mayor of Antrim Adrian Watson has been vetoed as the party’s candidate for the general election in South Antrim.
A meeting of party officers yesterday blocked Watson, who had been the UUP nomination for the seat, after opposition from their Tory partners.
Mr McFarland’s resignation comes just days after the North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon left the party, saying she would run as an Independent in the general election. He is understood to favour Lady Sylvia Hermon for the Westminster race.
In a statement, Mr McFarland said he would now sit as an independent member of the Assembly.
“With the recent confirmation of candidates, including the imposition of a Conservative candidate in my own North Down constituency, it is clear that the party is determined to continue down the Conservative road. I do not wish to join them,” he said.
“I am sorry to leave a party that contains many good friends and greatly regret that events have developed in the way they have.”
Meanwhile, the UUP is left without a candidate in South Antrim for the looming general election after Adrian Watson’s nomination was blocked.
At a meeting of party officers yesterday it was agreed that Mr Watson will not take on the DUP’s Willie McCrea at the election.
It is understood that Watson was opposed by the UUP’s electoral partners the Conservative Party, who believed his publicly-expressed views on a range of issues, including homosexuality and Travellers, were unacceptable.
The General Election pact between the UUP and the Tories means candidates must be ratified by a joint inter-party committee.
UUP South Antrim Association chairman John Scott said: “We had a meeting and as yet there is no candidate. The candidate will be an Ulster Unionist but it will not be Adrian Watson.
“There is a joint committee between the UUP and the Conservatives and the two names which had been put forward were withdrawn. We are essentially back to square one.”
Comments made by Mr Watson in 2006, suggesting gay couples would not be welcome in his family’s bed and breakfast, helped scupper his hopes of Tory approval.