Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

General Election: Mike Nesbitt calls for 'progressive' Remainer to fill North Down seat

Strangford MLA and past UUP leader Mike Nesbitt
Strangford MLA and past UUP leader Mike Nesbitt

By Eimear McGovern

Former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Mike Nesbitt has called on his party to run a "progressive" remain candidate in North Down to prevent the DUP claiming Lady Sylvia Hermon's seat.

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The MLA for Strangford said his party could take the seat by offering pro-remain voters an alternative to the pro-Brexit Alex Easton of the DUP.

North Down voted 52% in favour of remain in the 2016 referendum, after which Mr Easton came within 1,200 votes of outgoing MP Lady Sylvia in the 2017 general election.

Party sources have suggested MLA Alan Chambers could emerge as a candidate, while Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie has also come under pressure from party colleagues to put his name forward.

"North Down has a reputation of being a constituency apart, where the votes don't follow the traditional orange and green trend," Mr Nesbitt told the Sunday Times.

He ruled himself out of the contest as a candidate because of a heart issue.

He continued: "With the right candidate we would be contenders to win North Down, absolutely. He or she would have to be known to have strong remain credentials and be a progressive politician overall.

"This election has come at the wrong time for me because a few weeks ago my consultant discovered some issues. I had a couple of stents put in four years ago but this is an unrelated heart issue that just needs to be dealt with and that has to be the priority."

It comes as the new leader of the UUP Steve Aiken launched a stinging attack on the DUP in his inaugural speech.

Speaking at a party meeting in Templepatrick at the weekend, former submarine commander Steve Aiken MLA blasted the DUP's performance over the three years since the Brexit referendum.

"We are now in the teeth of a general election with the Boris Johnson/DUP withdrawal deal being the biggest threat to the Union that we have experienced; for, thanks to Nigel Dodds, Arlene Foster, Jeffrey Donaldson and Sammy Wilson, we now have a border drawn down the Irish Sea," he said.

He said the future of the Union was under threat for what he called "Boris Johnson's sell-out deal", and slammed "the DUP's ineptitude in creating a border in the Irish Sea, coupled with a level of venality that would, in any normal political society, see them banished into obscurity."

The former Royal Navy officer-turned-politician succeeds Robin Swann as leader and will be aiming to win back representation at Westminster for a party which was once the mainstay of unionism, but has been eclipsed at the polls by the DUP.

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