The SDLP’s call for a joint anti-Brexit candidate to challenge Ian Paisley in the event of a by-election in North Antrim has been derided as “ludicrous” by a senior DUP figure.
In a move which Gregory Campbell said “defied logic”, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has written to other Stormont party leaders urging a Brexit alliance in a bid to oust Mr Paisley.
Branding the decision as “baffling”, Mr Campbell told the News Letter: “The idea of running a single ‘remain’ candidate in the most pro-Brexit constituency in Northern Ireland says a lot about the level of political savvy in the SDLP.
“Remember, this is the same mastermind who oversaw them losing all three seats at the last general election.
“It is nothing more than an exceptionally poor quality publicity stunt. No one will take it seriously and it will be rightly laughed at.”
While Sinn Fein would not be drawn on whether it would support such an electoral pact, the Alliance Party firmly ruled out the move, stating: “If any election takes place, Alliance would intend to campaign on our own positive, progressive, pro-European platform.
“If anyone seeking a unity candidate was serious about the intention, they would have surely contacted other parties first instead of going directly to the media.”
TUV leader Jim Allister labelled the call for an agreed pro-remain candidate “absurd” and claimed such an endeavour would “play right into Ian Paisley’s hands”.
The North Antrim MLA told the News Letter: “Such a move would be the best news Ian Paisley could get, as North Antrim is a very emphatic pro-Brexit constituency; 2:1 was the vote.
“So anyone taking the spotlight off sleaze and putting it on to Brexit would be very foolish indeed.
“This appears to be the SDLP scratching round for some sort of political relevance.”
When asked for its position on the matter, the UUP simply stated: “We would caution others not to distract from the real reason for the by-election.”
Mr Paisley was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days after failing to declare two lavish family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government, and then lobbying on behalf of the controversial regime.
The sanction will force a by-election if 10% of North Antrim voters – about 7,600 people – sign what is known as a recall petition, the first of its kind in UK Parliamentary history.
However, the Commons has confirmed that the suspension of 30 sitting days would not automatically carry over if Mr Paisley was to be returned in the by-election.
A spokesperson told the News Letter that if Mr Paisley were to be re-elected, it would then be up the House, presumably following a recommendation from the standards committee, to decide whether to reimpose any unserved term.
Mr Paisley has vowed to fight any by-election, where he will be defending a majority of more than 20,000.
As well as his suspension from Parliament, the DUP has also suspended Mr Paisley while it carries out “further investigation into his conduct”.