Ulster Unionist Party unveils 16 General Election candidates - 'Northern Ireland's future in UK at stake,' says Aiken
The Ulster Unionist Party has announced its candidates for the December General Election.
Election & Brexit briefing Newsletter
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.
- Suzanne Breen: Aiken taking a huge risk by going up against DUP major player
- Ed Curran: This election will decide not only the future of the UK, but also the way forward, or back, for Northern Ireland and unionism in the next decade... it's as serious as that
- General Election 2019: Ulster Unionists select South Belfast candidate Michael Henderson
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.
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.
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.
“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
Belfast Telegraph Digital