Belfast Telegraph

Danny Kennedy to seek UUP nomination for European elections as Jim Nicholson bows out

Former UUP MLA Danny Kennedy
Former UUP MLA Danny Kennedy

UUP veteran Danny Kennedy has announced he will seek the party's nomination for the upcoming European elections after long-serving MEP Jim Nicholson ruled himself out.

On Monday Mr Nicholson announced he wouldn't seek the UUP nomination after serving as an MEP for nearly 30 years.

The UUP veteran had been intending to retire from politics after the end of his term as MEP, with the UK set to leave the EU as a result of Brexit.

The former Newry and Armagh MP moved to quash speculation he could run again with Brexit delayed, saying that he still believes it's time to "hand the baton on".

On the heel's of Mr Nicholson's announcement former Minister for Regional Development Danny Kennedy confirmed he would be seeking the nomination.

"Jim Nicholson has been an outstanding MEP for the people of Northern Ireland for 30 years. I want to thank him for his massive contribution and his hard work," Mr Kennedy wrote on Twitter.

Mr Kennedy had served as the MLA for Newry and Armagh nearly 20 years before losing his seat in the March 2017 election.

Following his defeat, the 59-year-old was outspoken about his struggle readjusting to private life after so long in politics.

He revealed that he had registered for Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) and said his visit to the Newry Jobs & Benefits office was the first time he had been there since his stint as Employment Minister.

The UUP will meet at Templepatrick's Hilton Hotel on Saturday to select the party's candidate.

Jim Nicholson represented the party in Brussels for 30 years (UUP/PA)
Jim Nicholson represented the party in Brussels for 30 years (UUP/PA)

Wishing his successor well, Mr Nicholson said that he had been proud of his work as MEP since his election in June 1989.

The 74-year-old said he had " always endeavoured to do what's right for all our people no matter their background".

He said that the way Brexit had been handled so far was "scandalous" and called on the UK to leave the EU before the end of June with a "sensible deal".

Mr Nicholson said that unionist concerns over the Irish border backstop must be heard and said if they were not addressed it would undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

UUP Leader Robin Swann paid tribute to Mr Nicholson's long service as an MEP.

"He has been a sensible voice in politics throughout the Troubles and right up until the present day," Mr Swann said.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

"He is an unashamed unionist and has always stood up for the interests of Northern Ireland and our place within the United Kingdom."

The UK is currently preparing to take part in the elections after Prime Minister Theresa May secured a Brexit extension until October 31.

If the House of Commons can agree on a Brexit deal prior to the May elections, then the UK will not have to take part.

However, if MPs fail to reach an agreement the elections will take place and UK MEPs will serve until a Brexit solution is found.

On Monday Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the “total focus” of ministers was to ensure the country did not have to vote in the elections to the European Parliament.

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