Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Unionist Party unveils 16 General Election candidates - 'Northern Ireland's future in UK at stake,' says Aiken

Steve Aiken has decided to run candidates in 16 constituencies. (Niall Carson/PA)
Steve Aiken has decided to run candidates in 16 constituencies. (Niall Carson/PA)
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

The Ulster Unionist Party has announced its candidates for the December General Election.

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Despite previously telling the Belfast Telegraph his party would contest all of Northern Ireland's 18 seats, the new UUP leader Steve Aiken has settled on running 16 candidates.

The two seats which will not have Ulster Unionist representation are West Belfast, a Sinn Fein safe seat, and North Belfast, which has been a bone of contention in recent weeks.

There were fears in the DUP camp that, if the UUP contested the seat, which is currently held by DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, the unionist vote could be split, opening the door for Sinn Fein's John Finucane to top the poll.

Following weeks of pressure, however, including paramilitary threats to party staff, Steve Aiken backed down and gave the DUP a clear run.

The same cannot be said for South Belfast, where councillor Michael Henderson is running - despite calls to step aside from incumbent DUP candidate Emma Little Pengelly and others over fears the SDLP's Claire Hanna could come out on top.

Elsewhere, party leader Steve Aiken will be challenging the DUP's Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson in East Antrim, with former party leader Robin Swann vying for Ian Paisley's North Antrim seat.

Steve Aiken, Tom Elliott and Arlene Foster yesterday
Steve Aiken, Tom Elliott and Arlene Foster yesterday

The Ulster Unionist's justice spokesperson Doug Beattie is running in Upper Bann, while Robbie Butler is hoping to fair well Lagan Valley.

Tom Elliott could also be returning to Westminster, challenging Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat he lost in 2017. The DUP has decided to stand aside in the constituency, with party leader Arlene Foster going so far as to accompany Mr Elliott when he handed in his nomination papers.

Outgoing North Down MP Sylvia Hermon, a former Ulster Unionist, has opened up the race for MLA Alan Chambers to return the seat long held by the party.

Ulster Unionists South Belfast General Election candidate Michael Henderson (Liam McBurney/PA)
Ulster Unionists South Belfast General Election candidate Michael Henderson (Liam McBurney/PA)

Steve Aiken said the upcoming poll is "the most important election in generations", with the future of Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom at stake.

"Three years on from the EU referendum we are offered a deal that puts a border up the Irish Sea and weakens the United Kingdom.

“The Ulster Unionist Party is clear, if we are being asked to leave the European Union with the current disastrous deal then we are better to remain and protect our United Kingdom.

Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie
Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie

“We want to offer pro-Union voters a choice. A choice between Ulster Unionist candidates who will offer a positive, progressive vision for unionism, protecting our place within the United Kingdom and the DUP who have dropped the ball, allowing a border to be put up the Irish Sea and dragged the reputation of unionism into the gutter."

The full list of Ulster Unionist Party General Election candidates are:

East Antrim: Steve Aiken

North Antrim: Robin Swann

South Antrim: Danny Kinahan

East Belfast: Carl McClean

South Belfast: Michael Henderson

East Londonderry: Richard Holmes

Fermanagh and South Tyrone: Tom Elliott

West Tyrone: Andy McKane

Foyle: Darren Guy

Lagan Valley: Robbie Butler

Mid Ulster: Neil Richardson

Newry and Armagh: Sam Nicholson

North Down: Alan Chambers

South Down: Jill Macauley

Strangford: Philip Smith

Upper Bann: Doug Beattie

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