Will DUP support Lady Sylvia now that she’s left their rivals?
The party that ran Stormont for 50 years is now without an MP to its name, after the widely-anticipated resignation of Lady Sylvia Hermon from the Ulster Unionists.
Lady Sylvia confirmed her intention to defend her North Down seat on an independent ticket, amid speculation that she will be backed by the DUP.
Officially, the DUP is simply stating that it has yet to make a decision on a candidate for the constituency. But the party is doing nothing to quell rumours that it is ready to stand aside in support of Lady Sylvia.
She had been publicly estranged from the UUP ever since it sealed its electoral pact with the Conservative Party. She also criticised her party's decision to vote in the Assembly against the devolution of policing and justice powers.
Announcing her resignation yesterday, Lady Sylvia said: “It is now my intention to stand my ground, fighting the forthcoming General Election as an independent and fighting to win.”
She also stated: “It has been truly a privilege for me to serve the people of North Down for the last nine years, and it will be the people of North Down who will give the ultimate verdict on my record as their MP.”
UUP leader Sir Reg Empey expressed his “deep regret” at the decision, adding: “I wish to thank her for her contribution to Ulster Unionism since her election in 2001. I believe that the values we share far outweigh the differences in approach to some issues.”
The North Down Ulster Unionist Association expressed its sadness in a statement.
“We have valued her contribution over the past 10 years, both as our MP and as an active member of the Association,” it added.
“It is regretted that the situation has developed as it has, and that it is not possible to find an agreed way forward. We wish Lady Sylvia well for the future.”
The UUP presided over half a century of one-party rule at the old Stormont Parliament up to 1972.
It was left with just the North Down seat in the Commons after the last General Election in 2005.
The party will need to recoup lost ground in the forthcoming General Election to make up for the departure of its sole MP.
The Conservative-UUP candidate taking on Lady Sylvia in North Down is Ian Parsley, who last year stood in the European Election for the Alliance Party.
Mr Parsley yesterday said: “This election is far too important to be about personalities.
“It is a straight choice between five more years of Gordon Brown's bankrupt administration, or a Conservative and Unionist government led by David Cameron which will deliver the change we need. The people of North Down have been quite clear. They want a government which will tackle the national debt to keep mortgage rates low; which will strengthen the family and restore the link between pensions and earnings; and which will lower business taxes and make it easier to employ people.
“Only a vote for the Conservatives and Unionists can deliver this.”