General Election: DUP's Donaldson says Aiken's refusal to form unionist pact is 'madness' and asks him to reconsider
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has urged UUP leader-in-waiting Steve Aiken to reconsider his decision to run candidates in every constituency in Northern Ireland.
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Speaking after MPs voted for a general election on December 12, the DUP MP said the idea was "bonkers" and would cost unionists seats by splitting the vote in key constituencies.
The DUP and UUP have traditionally formed electoral pacts in close fought constituencies so as not to split the unionist vote.
However, Mr Aiken has been highly critical of the DUP and has ruled out any electoral partnership.
Sir Jeffrey said that he couldn't understand the decision and responded to speculation that DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds could lose his seat in North Belfast to Sinn Fein's John Finucane.
The Lagan Valley MP also backed Emma Little Pengelly to retain her seat in South Belfast despite challenges from the SDLP's Claire Hanna and Alliance Party's Paula Bradshaw.
Sir Jeffrey said that he believed Mrs Little Pengelly "would do well" in the election.
In relation to Mr Dodds, he said that splitting the unionist vote in North Belfast is "just madness at this time".
He said the move would "hand North Belfast over to an abstentionist MP who won't take his seat in the House of Commons and will leave that crucial constituency with no voice in Parliament".
Sir Jeffrey said that the UUP had benefited from pacts in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the past.
"Is he saying he doesn't want Tom Elliott to have a free run on the unionist side? Is he saying he wants a Sinn Fein MP to represent the most westernly constituency in the UK and give them no voice in Parliament?," he told BBC Radio Ulster.
"I just don't understand where Steve Aiken is coming from, he is proposing that we have a unionist dogfight in the middle of the most important election for decades.
"I don't think they stand a chance of winning the seats where they are going to split the vote. Is anyone seriously suggesting an ulster unionist is going to win North Belfast where they don't have any Assembly members? They have one councillor in the entire constituency and haven't had an MP elected there for years.
"Is anyone suggesting that if there are two unionist candidates a unionist is going to win Fermanagh and South Tyrone? This is just bonkers."
In response to Sir Jeffrey, former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the DUP also stand in constituencies where they have no chance of winning.
Mr Nesbitt said he resented the idea from the DUP "that it is undemocratic" for a political party to field candidates in an election.
The Strangford MLA said he agreed to a pact in Fermanagh South Tyrone in 2015 because he sensed that only Tom Elliott could win the seat from Sinn Fein.
"Don't tell me this is all pure," Mr Nesbitt said highlighting that the DUP themselves had split the unionist vote in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the past.
"Let's just look at the facts of all this then support Steve in the decision that he makes," he told the Nolan Show.
A TUV spokesman said that unionists must band together to stop seats going to Sinn Fein.
“As TUV determines its position over the coming days regarding the upcoming General Election, one thing is clear to us - the folly of gifting seats to Sinn Fein. Any party that sets such a course is not serving the union," the spokesman said.
“In a first past the post election the luxury of expressing a preference within the Unionist family will not be available to all, particularly in marginal seats. Thus in seats such as Fermanagh & South Tyrone and North Belfast, agreed candidates should be a no brainer. For TUV the union trumps everything.”
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill said that her party had held talks with Northern Ireland's other remain supporting parties regarding electoral pacts.
Her party colleague Chris Hazzard said he was disappointed the SDLP had not shown more leadership around the issue.
"I think it would be transformative for the city of Belfast to accurately reflect the fact that Belfast is a city of remain when it comes to the entire Brexit debate," the South Down MLA said.
Mr Hazzard said any opportunities for the parties to work together needed to be looked at and asked the SDLP to think about it.
South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna said the parties were talking and it'll be about "honesty with the electorate and transparency about what can be achieved".
Ms Hanna said the election was about representing the remain voice in Northern Ireland over party fortunes.
"It's about challenging the most extreme form of Brexit and getting the best outcome for people here," she said.
Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry said his party would not be standing aside in any constituency.
He told the Nolan Show that Alliance is the largest party in south Belfast based on recent election results and would be able to bring people together from across the community.
"I'm happy for the electorate to make those decisions themselves," Mr Farry said.
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