Senior Ulster Unionist Mike Nesbitt has revealed he wants his party to renew its links with the Conservatives.
Despite the failure of the UUP/Tory link-up in last year’s General Election the Strangford MLA maintains he still favours a loose alliance with centre right parties throughout the UK.
He said: “A new arrangement might take us back to where we were pre-1972 when we had a formal alliance without any electoral oversight.”
In those days the Tories were known as the Conservative and Unionist Party.
In last year’s Westminster election the UUP lost all its seats standing alongside the Conservatives on a platform called Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force (UCUNF).
He said: “UCUNF was an electoral pact which didn’t work. I would rather have a political pact which did.”
His ideas mirror those put forward by Murdo Fraser, the deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives and frontrunner to take the leadership later this year.
Last year the Scottish Tories did nearly as badly as the UUP, losing all but one of their seats. Mr Fraser is now proposing that they form a new centre-right Scottish party. He wants it to enter an alliance with the Conservatives but forming some distinctive Scottish policies not shared by the Tories.
Mr Nesbitt explained: “We would stand in an election as an Ulster Unionist Party but with a clear and defined association with the Conservative Party. That would allow us a ‘get-out’ clause to vote on conscience issues relating to Northern Ireland if we felt a Conservative Government’s policy was not appropriate.”
On Tuesday, October 18 Mr Nesbitt (below) will chair a meeting entitled ‘Full Federation of UK Political Conservatism: Is Murdo Fraser Right?’ hosted by the Young Unionists, to be held in Queen’s University Students’ Union.
The idea of a federation of regional centre-right parties is gaining some traction within the Tory leadership where it is seen as a way to address falling Conservative support outside southern England.
Former Tory Scottish Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind described Mr Fraser's plans as “healthy”, and they promised “a refreshing new start.”