General election: UUP's Steve Aiken refuses to say whether party will stand candidate in North Belfast
The Ulster Unionist Party's incoming leader Steve Aiken has refused to say whether his party will stand a candidate in North Belfast despite pledging to stand candidates in each of the 18 electoral constituencies in Northern Ireland.
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Appearing on the BBC's The View programme on Thursday night, Mr Aiken repeatedly refused to confirm if he would stand a candidate against North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds in the upcoming general election on December 12.
He said: "We are looking to make sure that we have representatives across all of Northern Ireland, particularly those who will go out and challenge the DUP, who will challenge Sinn Fein, and actually represent Northern Ireland.
"Because this is what this election is all about. This election is about challenging Boris' (Johnson) Brexit deal. It is about making Northern Ireland work again."
DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said: "I think what we have just heard in the opening days of his leadership is Steve managed to put his foot in his mouth and shoot himself in the other one.
"From my perspective, the only thing that matters to me is that we maximise unionist representation in the House of Commons. I think people want MPs who will go to the House of Commons and take their seat."
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Mr Aiken's comments come after the Belfast Telegraph revealed a series of high-profile unionists had warned the UUP leader-in-waiting that his opposition to electoral pacts could see Sinn Fein's John Finuance win the North Belfast seat.
Twenty-five senior local figures - including current and former Ulster Unionist members - penned a letter to Mr Aiken.
In the letter they outlined their "strong opposition" to any proposal to split the unionist vote in the constituency in December's General Election.
They noted the seat, once held by Edward Carson, has always returned a unionist MP, but this is now in jeopardy. They tell Mr Aiken the "only consequence" of running a candidate against Nigel Dodds, the sitting MP, will be to help Sinn Fein.
Belfast Telegraph Digital