Relations between the UUP and the Tories took a further nose dive last night when a senior Ulster Unionist called for the resignation of the Secretary of State and questioned his commitment to the unionist cause.
David McNarry, the UUP justice spokesman, was reacting to an interview in which Owen Paterson said that if Martin McGuinness was elected as First Minister “it would be an extraordinary endorsement of the progress that has been made”.
Mr Paterson was answering questions from the BBC’s Noel Thompson on why he had refused to change the rules on the election of First Minister after requests from the UUP. Mr Paterson said: “I don’t think it would be appropriate for a new coalition Government to change things around.”
He added: “It is absolutely not for me as Secretary of State to comment on that, it is down to people to go to the polling booths and vote.”
Mr McNarry called on Paterson to “consider his position as Secretary of State”.
He added that “he also needs to reconsider his professed ‘unionism’”.
“It clearly differs markedly from that of Prime Minister David Cameron and it most certainly is out of touch with unionism in Northern Ireland,” Mr McNarry said.
“We are now seeing why he will do nothing to turn around the St Andrews Agreement provisions for electing a First Minister.”
Under the St Andrews Agreement, the largest party in the Assembly appoints the First Minister.
The UUP had asked that this provision be changed to give the post to the largest party in the largest community designation, which would have the effect of keeping it in unionist hands regardless of whether Sinn Fein topped the poll.