Belfast Telegraph

Anti-Brexit by-election candidate would be 'gift' to Ian Paisley, says Jim Allister

TUV leader Jim Allister has said a call from the SDLP for a single anti-Brexit candidate to take on Ian Paisley in North Antrim if a by-election is called would be a "gift" to the embattled politician.

It comes after SDLP Brexit spokeswoman Claire Hanna called for an agreed unity remain candidate to run in any potential election.

The North Antrim MLA said that any Brexit candidate would distract from the real issues in any election.

"It's probably the best news Ian Paisley has heard in what must be a very dark week for him," Mr Allister said.

"He would love to turn this election (if there is one) away from what it's about, namely sleaze to Brexit in a constituency that's overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit.

"It's a gift to Ian Paisley if this election is diverted from sleaze to Brexit."

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.

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.

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 over 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".

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