Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey has denied his party link-up with the Conservatives lies in tatters after three Tory candidates withdrew from election consideration.
The trio of nominees, Sheila Davidson, Deirdre Nelson and Peter McCann, have so far declined to comment on their reasons.
The Conservatives claim to have a candidate ready for all constituencies in Northern Ireland except west Belfast. However, the three who have stepped down are the most high profile and were lined up for the seats most eagerly sought by David Cameron’s party.
A source told The Observer newspaper yesterday a meeting between the three and shadow Secretary of State Owen Paterson had revealed the Conservatives were prepared to at least acquiese in a carve-up of constituencies.
”Peter and others resigned on a matter of principle (namely) that this is the triumph of tribalism over inclusive, secular politics,” the source said.
It follows the revelation of private talks between the Conservatives, the UUP and the DUP near London last Sunday, which included DUP leader Peter Robinson and UU deputy leader Danny Kennedy.
Yesterday it was reported that Mr McCann had “felt like vomiting” after hearing of secret talks between the main unionist parties chaired by Mr Paterson.
But Sir Reg yesterday denied the link-up with the Conservatives is in tatters.
He said individuals had been frustrated with the pace of the nomination process but the project, to bring national politics to Northern Ireland, remained.