Call for single Brexit candidate in by-election would be gift for Paisley, says Allister
TUV leader Jim Allister has claimed that an agreed anti-Brexit candidate running in any North Antrim by-election would be a "gift" for Ian Paisley.
The proposal from the SDLP's Claire Hanna is that one person, backed by the SDLP, Alliance, Sinn Fein and Green Party, could stand on a Remain ticket if enough electors back a recall for the DUP MP and thus triggering a by-election.
Mr Paisley was suspended from Parliament for 30 days after failing to declare two family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013 paid for by that country's government.
The following year he wrote to then Prime Minister David Cameron to lobby against supporting a UN resolution on Sri Lanka over alleged human rights abuses.
He has also been suspended by the DUP pending an internal investigation.
A petition of recall will now be set up, and if it is signed by 10% of the electorate a by-election will be called.
Mr Paisley has signalled that he will contest any by-election.
Ms 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."
But Mr Allister said that any anti-Brexit candidate would distract from the real issues.
"It's probably the best news Ian Paisley has heard in what must be a very dark week for him," he 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."
In a letter to the leaders of Alliance, Sinn Fein and the Greens, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was "absolutely crucial that we now move to work together to agree that a Remain candidate run to take the seat in North Antrim".
"There is a real opportunity to take on the Tories and stop a hard Brexit.
"The North needs a Remain voice in the Commons that will vote to stop borders in Ireland and economic devastation."
Following the call from the SDLP, the Alliance Party moved quickly to say it would be campaigning "on our own" in any potential by-election, and that 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," a party spokseman said.