Alliance rejects call for single anti-Brexit candidate to stand against Ian Paisley in by-election
The Alliance Party has rejected a call from the SDLP's Claire Hanna for a single anti-Brexit candidate to take on Ian Paisley in North Antrim if a by-election is called following the Sri Lankan holiday scandal.
SDLP Brexit spokeswoman Mrs Hanna has called for an agreed unity remain candidate to run in any potential election, to represent the views of a majority of Northern Ireland voters who backed the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union.
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Following the call from Mrs Hanna, the Alliance Party moved quickly to say they would be campaigning "on our own" in any potential by-election, and talk of a unity candidate was "premature".
"Alliance’s position on pacts is well-known and we have been successful in challenging financial scandals in a Westminster election before," the spokesperson said.
"If any election takes place, Alliance would intend to campaign on our own positive, progressive, pro-European platform.
"If anyone seeking a unity candidate was serious about the intention, they would have surely contacted other parties first instead of going directly to the media."
Ian Paisley has been suspended from Parliament for 30 days after it was revealed he took his family on two holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan Government.
He has also been suspended by the DUP pending an internal investigation.
The North Antrim MP was found guilty of paid advocacy after contacting then Prime Minister David Cameron to lobby on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government regarding a UN resolution.
A petition of recall will now be set up and if the petition is signed by 10% of the North Antrim electorate, Mr Paisley must stand down and a by-election will be called.
Mr Paisley is expected to be the DUP candidate in the event of any by-election, and in the 2017 General Election he claimed a winning 42% share of the vote.
Mrs Hanna made the call for a single candidate after the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood wrote to party leaders urging a 'Brexit alliance'.
In his correspondence, the SDLP leader said there is a “real opportunity to take on the Tories and stop a hard Brexit”.
He said Northern Ireland needs a remain voice in the Commons that “will vote to stop borders in Ireland and economic devastation".
South Belfast MLA Mrs Hanna said a remain voice was needed in Westminster to properly represent the people of Northern Ireland.
“Ian Paisley has to go. He should step aside immediately, not because the SDLP is telling him to but because it’s the right thing to do," Mrs Hanna said.
“It is imperative now that all of us work to ensure that a by-election is called and it is won by an MP that will represent the interests of people in Northern Ireland at this critical time. That means only an MP who will go to Westminster and vote against the Tory Brexit can take the seat.
“Today [Thursday] the SDLP Party Leader wrote to all remain voices to ask that we agree to back a remain candidate that will defeat the DUP and help protect the interests of all peoples across these islands."
Belfast Telegraph Digital