Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

UUP won't support Johnson or Corbyn as PM, vows Aiken

Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The UUP leader has called for a state of emergency to be declared over the "moral outrage" of health waiting lists.

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Launching his party manifesto yesterday at the Stormont Hotel, Steve Aiken said MLAs should be "relieved of their duties" and direct rule introduced if an agreement to restore the Assembly could not be reached by January.

He also vowed that his party would not support Boris Johnson as Prime Minister because of his "truly disastrous" Brexit deal, or back Jeremy Corbyn due to his "support for terrorism".

Mr Aiken further claimed that the health crisis gripping the province would not be tolerated in other parts of the UK.

"This farce cannot continue for another calendar year," he said. "If by mid-January there is still not agreement, direct rule must be implemented.

"We cannot sit back while public services spiral into further crisis and we deal with the fallout of Brexit with one hand tied behind our backs.

"If politicians here aren't willing to take up their responsibilities, they should be relieved of their duties and direct rule ministers should be put in place.

"But we're just at the tip of the iceberg. The problems in the health service will get worse and the problems in education will get worse. Our people will suffer." Calling on Boris Johnson to declare a state of emergency, Mr Aiken said the next government should pass special measures to tackle the health crisis.

He suggested the Department of Health should start by borrowing £200m to take the pressure off elective care and free up funds for a new pay offer.

Turning to Brexit, Mr Aiken called the decision to leave the EU "the biggest political earthquake" since the Second World War and pledged that the UUP would fight to stay in the bloc.

He warned that if Mr Johnson's deal was passed in the next session of Parliament, Northern Ireland would "be torn away from its most important economic market, Great Britain".

Asked if the UUP was a Remain party, having previously pledged to honour the result of the 2016 referendum, Mr Aiken said "the game changed dramatically" when Mr Johnson agreed a withdrawal deal in October.

"The reality is, if Johnson gets his deal across, Northern Ireland - to all intents and purposes - will be remaining within much of the EU," he added.

"We are not leaving, so therefore the only answer on the table to prevent Boris Johnson's deal at the moment has to remaining.

"That's not because we like Europe - many of us don't - but for us there is only one union that really matters and that is the Union of the UK."

Mr Aiken went on to accuse outgoing Sinn Fein MPs of being little more than political commentators. He also claimed the DUP's 10 MPs "blew it" by agreeing to Mr Johnson's regulatory border down the Irish Sea.

Mr Aiken said the UUP was hoping for a hung Parliament because he could not support Mr Johnson as he has "already shown he will cut Northern Ireland loose", and "Jeremy Corbyn's past form in Northern Ireland means he is totally unfit to enter 10 Downing Street".

He did not, however, rule out talks with a Johnson government or a different Labour leader.

On restoring Stormont, Mr Aiken said reform was needed because all trust between local political parties had been eroded.

"There must be changes on how we do business here to make sure the mistakes of the past aren't replicated," Mr Aiken explained.

The UPP leader also stressed that investing in transport, upgrading the electricity grid and incentivising people out of poverty was a better use of money than building Mr Johnson's "fantasy bridge" to Scotland.

Asked about rolling back on a promise to stand candidates in all 18 constituencies, Mr Aiken said: "We made a decision in North Belfast (to withdraw from the race).

"That was a choice between actually having an MP who would go and be held to account, and someone who would just sit and have coffee in the House of Commons and bump up their expenses."

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