A DISAGREEMENT has emerged between the DUP and UUP over a proposal to run a unionist unity candidate in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.

The strategy, backed by the DUP and TUV, was dismissed by UUP leader Doug Beattie, who said the candidate would be unable to deliver a unified message.

He cited the return of Stormont devolution and the deal the DUP struck with the UK Government on post-Brexit trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as one such challenge.

Mr Beattie said that the idea was first mooted during a phone call on Friday, “without any detail on how they would breach the differences”.

But DUP interim leader Gavin Robinson said that discussions began on such a strategy last year “long before any election was called”, and hit out at “selfish party interests”.

He said he had been “inundated” with calls for a non-party aligned candidate and is aware of people who are willing to take up the role.

The UUP has already selected local councillor Diana Armstrong as its candidate in the constituency.

There was phone contact between unionist leaders on Friday scoping the potential for running a non-party candidate to take on Sinn Fein.

While the DUP and TUV support the strategy, Mr Beattie has made clear his opposition.

“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,” he said.

“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 (Northern Ireland) Protocol implementors? If they did, the DUP wouldn’t support.

“The reality being any ‘unity’ candidate would be undermined with just a basic level of scrutiny. 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.

“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.”

Mr Robinson said in a statement: “The DUP has not contested this Westminster seat since 2005 despite being the largest party in the constituency.

“Last week, when I became aware of people offering to run as a non-party candidate, I reached out to the UUP and TUV leaders to encourage them to follow our example and withdraw in favour of an agreed candidate.

“Contrary to the UUP statement, the DUP engaged in discussions about an agreed unionist candidate in Fermanagh & South Tyrone last year, long before any election was called.

“Indeed, we even challenged the UUP leadership about publicly announcing a candidate before those talks had concluded.

“The people of Fermanagh & South Tyrone should know who was interested in returning a pro-Union voice to Westminster and those advancing selfish party interests, especially if there is a hung Parliament and Fermanagh & South Tyrone are once again left voiceless.”