Belfast Telegraph

EU Election 2019

UUP members will decide if they want someone else to lead, says Swann

Ulster Unionist boss rules out a merger with DUP rivals

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann
Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann
Candidate: Danny Kennedy
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has ruled out a merger with the DUP despite his party's disappointing European election campaign.

He told the Belfast Telegraph that the UUP represented a brand of unionism very different from its main rival.

"What's the difference between the Ulster Unionists and the DUP? It's Red Sky, NAMA and RHI," he said last night.

"Look at our manifesto and you'll see clear differences, but it's not just about policy, it's about how we do business. Our approach to unionism is not how do we fill our own boots?"

The UUP was swept away in an Alliance surge, losing the EU seat it had held for 40 years. The party's candidate Danny Kennedy finished sixth on just 9%, a 4% drop on Jim Nicholson's performance in 2014.

Mr Swann said the party would analyse the results and chart a way forward.

"I can rule out a merger with the DUP," he said. "It's not what I want and it's not what our members want. Even the DUP recognises that without the UUP a significant section of the unionist community would not come out to vote.

"We reach a brand of unionism that they don't and that's important overall for the unionist vote. We stand for an open unionism, a unionism for everyone."

A Remainer voter in the 2016 referendum, Mr Kennedy upheld party policy that the Brexit vote should be respected.

Mr Swann denied that the party could have fared better with a different candidate or that its campaign had been weak.

"Danny would have made a very competent MEP and continued in the tradition of Jim Nicholson in representing everybody across Northern Ireland," he said.

"The election became a re-run of the Brexit referendum with people voting either Leave or Remain rather than looking at who would make the best MEP."

The UUP leader said the question of resigning had entered his mind when the EU result came in.

"It was a blow and of course you take it personally. I'd not be human if the thought of resigning hadn't entered my mind," he said.

"It was not a good day for our party. We were squeezed on all sides. The message from the electorate is clear and we'll listen."

Mr Swann added: "My job is to continue doing what Mike Nesbitt did - to stabilise the party and re-establish its place in the unionist family.

"Northern Ireland is changing and evolving, and the Ulster Unionist Party needs to be part of that.

"And we are part of that but perhaps we're not getting the message into the public domain as strongly as we need to.

"The narrative is that only the Alliance Party is in the middle ground. The Ulster Unionist Party is very much a centre ground unionist party."

The 53,052 first preference votes secured by Mr Kennedy was only half that won by Alliance leader Naomi Long.

The DUP, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and TUV leader Jim Allister all finished ahead of him.

"I take responsibility for it because I think that's what a responsible and accountable leader has to do," Mr Swann told BBC Radio Ulster earlier.

Asked about whether he was the right person to lead the party, he said that "at this moment in time I am the leader. If the party wants to go in a different direction I am big enough to take that and the party is big enough to take that".

He added: "I didn't take on the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party because of ego or any sense of self-importance. I took it on because I thought there was a job of work to do, I thought there was a job of work I could do, there is still a job of work to do and I think I can still continue doing that.

"So, look, it's up to the party to decide. We're bigger than one man and I'm big enough to do whatever needs to be done for the good of the Ulster Unionist Party."

He added: "I consider I am the man at this moment in time that's in the post and there is nobody calling for me to go anywhere at this minute in time."

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