Belfast Telegraph

General Election: UUP selects Tom Elliott for Fermanagh South Tyrone Westminster battle

The UUP’s Tom Elliott, left, won the Fermanagh South Tyrone Westminster seat in 2015 following a unionist pact (PA)
The UUP’s Tom Elliott, left, won the Fermanagh South Tyrone Westminster seat in 2015 following a unionist pact (PA)

By Suzanne Breen and Jonathan Bell

The Ulster Unionists have selected former MP Tom Elliott to challenge Sinn Fein for the Westminster seat in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

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Mr Elliott was the only candidate at a selection meeting in the constituency on Thursday night.

The DUP has stepped aside in the constituency and has called on its voters to support Mr Elliott in next month’s poll.

A unionist pact saw him win the seat in 2015 but Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew took it back two years later. She is the bookies’ favourite for the election.

Ms Gildernew first won the seat in 2001, defeating Ulster Unionist James Cooper by just 53 votes.

Four years later, she was re-elected and increased her majority to 4,582 votes.

Speaking after a full selection meeting in Enniskillen, Tom Elliott described it an hour to be put on the ballot paper having previously served as a councillor, MLA and MP.

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"This will be the most important general election in generations. The MPs elected on December 12th will have a decisive role in shaping the UK’s future international and domestic direction for many decades to come," he said.

"Brexit is the defining issue of the period. I believe a bad Brexit deal would be just as damaging, both economically and constitutionally, as a no deal.

"It is essential that Northern Ireland sends the maximum number of MPs to Parliament who will take their seats, take part in the debates and cast their votes."

In 2010, Fermanagh and South Tyrone was one of the most closely fought elections in political history with Ms Gildernew defeating unionist unity candidate Rodney Connor by just four votes.

But in 2015, Mr Elliott — backed by the DUP — emerged as the winner and took the seat back from her by 530 votes. Two years later, the Sinn Fein woman secured 25,230 votes — 875 more than Mr Elliott. Another titanic contest is set to unfold.

Mr Elliott had not initially planned to run but was convinced by party colleagues that he should stand.

He added: "It's hugely important that Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the most westerly constituency in the United Kingdom, is represented in Westminster.

"I have been humbled by the support I've received across all sections of the community in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in recent weeks and it is my hope that after December 12th I will be able to give them back their voice."

The seat is of huge symbolic significance to Sinn Fein given that it was once held by H-Block hunger-striker Bobby Sands.

Turnout in the constituency is usually one of the highest in Northern Ireland.

Ms Gildernew, a former agriculture minister, was popular across the parties at Stormont.

She has been out of favour with the Sinn Fein leadership and is the only high-profile member of her party to support John O’Dowd’s deputy leadership challenge to Michelle O’Neill.

DUP leader Arlene Foster announced her party would not be standing in the constituency last week.

She made the move before Mr Elliott was even formally selected.

“The people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone deserve to be represented in the House of Commons rather than an absentee MP standing on the sidelines,” she said.

“Despite the DUP being the largest unionist party in the constituency, it is right to put wider interest ahead of narrow party politics and indicate our support for Tom Elliott to re-take this seat.

“This is something voters from across the unionist community want to see happening and we will be urging DUP supporters to put their full weight behind Tom’s campaign.”

Mrs Foster added: “Every vote will matter in this election and the votes of Northern Ireland MPs could again be crucial in the new Parliament.”

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