27/02/2009

Hermon Absent For Tory/UUP Launch

The Ulster Unionist's sole Westminster MP was conspicuous by her absence at last night's unveiling ceremony of a new UUP and Conservative Party voting pact.

Lady Hermon (pictured) did not attend the event to 'christen' the agreement, which has been officially branded 'Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force'.

The two parties will fight in the next European and general elections together, under the joint name, which will appear on ballot papers.

UUP Leader Sir Reg Empey said he is "delighted" with the pact, which the party chief said would strengthen the "UK family".

"This is something entirely new in NI, something which would allow us to become more fully and demonstrably an equal partner within the UK family."

Sir Reg added: "The UUP believes that the union is a two-way process and we believe that a pan-UK unionist vehicle is the best way of promoting the values of the union."
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The party leader refused to discuss why Lady Hermon was absent from proceedings, despite heavy probing from assembled journalist.

Sir Reg insisted the North Down MP can "speak for herself".

Both parties will remain independent, insisting the move is not a merger.

Plans of the pact first came to light last July. Since then Lady Hermon, who is believed to be opposed to the agreement, has held two meeting with Conservative Leader David Cameron.

Following talks with Mr Cameron earlier this month, Lady Hermon said she intended to meet with other members of the Shadow Cabinet.

Today, Conservative NI Spokesman Owen Paterson said he hoped the UUP MP would eventually give her support to the 'New Force'.

"She's highly respected in North Down," he said.

"David Cameron has made it very clear that we do want more intelligent, well-educated, skilful, professional women politicians and Sylvia scores a lot of points on all those fronts.

"So we hope she thinks it over, and we hope she comes with us," added Mr Paterson.

(PR/BMcC)

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