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Unionists clash despite poll pact: Mike Nesbitt slams DUP man's 'base' bargaining over a hung parliament

By Noel McAdam

Published 25/04/2015

Criticism: UUP’s Mike Nesbitt
Criticism: UUP’s Mike Nesbitt

Battle lines are opening between the DUP and Ulster Unionists - despite their electoral pact.

The Ulster Unionist leader has attacked a senior DUP figure over political bargaining ahead of a potential hung parliament after the general election.

Mike Nesbitt said Ian Paisley's direct bid for a £1 billion package was a "pretty base way" of doing politics.

And he pointedly added: "Our values are not an auction item available to the highest bidder."

The UUP chief made clear he was not being critical of the DUP's overall positioning ahead of the likely negotiations. "That is a matter entirely for them," he said.

"As far as I can see even Peter Robinson slapped down Paisley junior, who has form on this sort of thing before as we saw during the St Andrews negotiations when he was negotiating for things in his own constituency."

Mr Robinson has also said his party's price for supporting either Conservatives or Labour includes maintaining defence spending and banning the bedroom tax. Mr Paisley was not immediately available for comment, but party colleague David Simpson argued his was the only party not already tied to one of the national parties.

"Every opinion poll shows that we are going to have a hung parliament," said Mr Simpson.

"The DUP are the only party to have a plan for Northern Ireland in the negotiations which will follow the election.

"We will talk to all the major parties at Westminster, and make no apology for using a position of strength to negotiate on behalf of Northern Ireland.

"Criticism from other parties comes because their votes are already tied to one of the major parties and therefore they have no influence, or because they will be too small to count in any negotiations."

The exchange shows that, despite the electoral pact between the two parties in four key seats, the gloves are off in other constituencies.

Thus in the targeted areas - including East Belfast, North Belfast, Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Newry/Armagh - both parties have been extolling the value of unionist unity.

But unity will be the last thing on display in close contests, such as the South Antrim seat or South Belfast, where the two parties intend to slug it out, with just over 10 days left to polling day.

In his comments last month, Mr Paisley said: "Northern Ireland gets just under £13bn a year (from Westminster).

"There's no reason why, over the period of the next five years, that couldn't be increased. But it would be hundreds of millions; it wouldn't be a paltry sum. It would be something that would ease burdens in Northern Ireland."

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