Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has branded comments from his DUP counterpart, Arlene Foster, as “arrogant” ahead of talks between the two later today on electoral pacts.
Mr Swann said the DUP leader’s “attitude” in “drawing red lines” ahead of the talks were not helpful.
He had been responding to an article written by Mrs Foster in which she ruled her party out from standing aside in favour of an agreed unionist candidate in South Belfast in the forthcoming General Election. Mrs Foster also highlighted the overall popularity of the two parties, pointing out that “in Belfast alone we have five MLAs to the UUP’s one” in her article, published by the Belfast Telegraph.
Responding to those comments, Mr Swann said: “It strikes me as a bit arrogant.”
Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme earlier today, the UUP leader continued: “I had hoped to go into this as the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party with some sort of hope for unionism, some sort of hope of coming to an agreement, but look, I’m still open to have the conversation, I’m still happy to go to the meeting. Unionism suffered at the March election. I was hoping there could have been a way forward - I still hope there is. I’m willing to talk. That attitude isn’t helpful at this moment in time.”
The UUP have also agreed not to run candidates in three constituencies - West Belfast, North Belfast and Foyle.
Mr Swann explained: “It’s not about giving anything to anybody else. Our executive met on Saturday and we decided we wouldn’t be running in three constituencies.
“What I would like to see in return is as many Ulster Uninoist MPs as possible. We’re open to pacts, we’re going to do pacts. We’re willing to talk to people at this stage. I think that’s what we’ve made clear, as have a number of other parties across Northern Ireland. The SDLP say they’re open to pacts with Alliance, Sinn Fein and the Green Party. We’re seeing the same across the water as well because this is a very fluid election.”
Asked about specifically about Mrs Foster’s comments, Mr Swann said: “It’s a strange way to start any conversation, by putting down a red line so firm and so adamant before we’ve even sat down to discuss if we’re going to have a pact or not.”
He continued: “I think that’s a misconception out there - today’s meeting, under my process, was to see if we were actually going to look at the possibility. If Arlene is already ruling out seats and putting up red lines it’s going to make any conversation a bit more difficult.”
Asked by presenter Chris Buckler whether the three constituencies where the UUP have already agreed not to run “might be the height of it”, Mr Swann said: “I’d be disappointed if that’s where it finishes up. I’m willing to have a conversation with the DUP leader today to see if there’s anything that can be done to maximise the number of Northern Ireland MPs taking their seats in Westminster. I think that’s a crucial thing coming into this General Election. The people of Northern Ireland have to realise, we need representation on those benches. We need Northern Ireland voices in Westminster at this time because of the forthcoming negotiations in regard to Brexit. If Northern Ireland isn’t represented on those benches, we’re losing our voice over there. Absentee MPs at this time will not serve the people of Northern Ireland.”