Doug Beattie addresses suggestion of electoral pact in Fermanagh South Tyrone

UUP leader Doug Beattie
-Credit: (Image: Jonathan Porter/PressEye)

UUP leader Doug Beattie has distanced his party from plans to run a single unionist candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone. Mr Beattie was speaking after TUV leader Jim Allister suggested on the BBC's Sunday Politics that he had had discussions with the DUP around a pact in the marginal constituency.

In the 2019 election, Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew won the seat by only 57 votes with the Ulster Unionist's Tom Elliott coming in second.

With news that Ms Gildernew will not be contesting the election as she focuses on winning a seat in the European Parliament, there had been calls for a joint unionist candidate to contest the election in Fermanagh South Tyrone.

Read more: DUP announces Lagan Valley candidate for General Election

Read more: How to vote in the UK General Election in Northern Ireland if you're on holiday on July 4

On Friday the interim DUP leader Gavin Robinson said that he would "actively work with others to see if its possible to maximise unionist representation”.

Speaking on Sunday Politics, TUV leader Jim Allister said: "By Friday when [Gavin Robinson] said that there had been no contact whatsoever with TUV, none.

"It was only on Friday evening there was contact made about one constituency, which I am always willing to talk about because that particular constituency has a tradition of trying to find a combined candidate.

“[In Fermanagh-South Tyrone] I think the best idea would be a non-party candidate who could embrace the support of all unionists.

"If that can be achieved well and good. That is the vision and mission at present. Whether that is attainable it remains to be seen, because it only takes one of the three parties to say no.”

Responding to this, the UUP leader has today rubbished the claims and said that his party is the "only realistic" opportunity to take the seat from Sinn Féin.

“The General Election is a long time coming; speculation led many to believe it would be held in May this year. That is why the Ulster Unionist Party selected and announced our candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in January," he said.

“There were no conversations around a unity candidate and that remained the case until Friday 24th May when a proposed unity candidate was put forward by phone call. This was without any detail on how they would breach the differences between the parties.

“Would this proposed unity candidate support the DUP and UUP position of entering the Executive? If they did the TUV wouldn't support. Would they promote the 'Safeguarding the Union' document as a good deal? If they did the UUP wouldn't support. Would they refer to the DUP as Protocol implementors. If they did the DUP wouldn't support."

Mr Beattie added that any ‘unity’ candidate would be undermined with just a basic level of scrutiny and that they would not be able to deliver a unified message.

“In 2019 the Ulster Unionist Party came within 57 votes of taking the seat and returning a pro-union MP. Announcing our candidate early, ensuring she is known and is making headway in delivering a pro-Union message gives many unionists the opportunity to affect change in FST," he said.

“We have not asked any party to stand aside in FST, they have the right to stand if they wish. However, Diana Armstrong is the only realistic opportunity for a unionist to win in that constituency.”

For all the latest news, visit the Belfast Live homepage here and sign up to our politics newsletter here.