Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Steve Aiken OBE MLA
2019 General Election Manifesto Launch
Stormont Hotel, Belfast - 4 December 2019
It cannot be overstated how important this General Election is.
The votes cast on the 12 December will elect MPs to a House of Commons that will decide the future direction of our United Kingdom – politically, economically and socially.
Voters are now faced with a decision, to elect those who have played a full part in the chaos of the last three years, or to elect those who will fight to regain stability.
The decision to leave the European Union was the biggest political earthquake our nation has experienced since the Second World War.
Since the European Referendum in 2016 - Parliament, and our society, has become increasingly divided. A nation whose politics was once defined by its pragmatism, has become further entrenched and polarised with each twist and turn over the last three years.
Ideology and personal ambition has come ahead of what is best for the people of our nation.
And in the years following the referendum it became clear that for those who were determined to see Brexit done, no matter the cost, that Northern Ireland would become the price.
This Party warned successive UK Prime Ministers of the existential threat posed to Northern Ireland’s place within the union by the backstop that threatened to see Northern Ireland annexed from Great Britain.
These fears were realised when Boris Johnson served up a deal which would crudely see a border put up the Irish Sea. The deal presented is totally disastrous for Northern Ireland and presents a very real and active challenge to our place as an integral part of the union.
If Boris Johnson is able to successfully get his deal through the next Parliament, then Northern Ireland will be torn away from its most important economic market – Great Britain.
This stands to bring disastrous consequences for our sectors who rely heavily on that market.
That is why Ulster Unionist MPs will stand in opposition to this deal.
We entered into the European Union as one nation, we either leave as one nation or we remain as one nation.
Be in no doubt – if we are faced with Boris Johnson’s deal, then we are better to remain and protect our United Kingdom.
The deal presented by Boris Johnson makes the case for why it is vital that Northern Ireland elects MPs who have Northern Ireland’s best interests at heart.
MPs who will take their seats and make sure Northern Ireland’s voice is heard in the House of Commons and vote is registered in the lobbies.
In 2017, seventeen of our eighteen constituencies returned either Sinn Fein or DUP MPs.
What have the people of Northern Ireland got in return?
Sinn Fein have been powerless to what has gone on inside the Commons.
Relegated to being nothing more than political commentators on the evening news.
And what about from the DUP? More votes, more seats, more influence is what they said.
Ten DUP MPs held the balance of power at Westminster with a Government reliant on their votes. They said they had never had more influence at Westminster.
And what did that influence get for Northern Ireland?
Well to put it bluntly - they blew it.
They conceded a massive strategic own goal on the 2 October this year when they gave way on Boris Johnson’s regulatory border in the Irish Sea which paved the way for the nightmare deal that is now on the table.
They had the monopoly on unionist opinion in the House of Commons for two years, yet it is hard to remember a time when pro-union politics was so damaged.
That is why we must offer an alternative.
Ulster Unionist MPs will offer a progressive pro-union voice in the House of Commons.
Ulster Unionist MPs will stand strong against any attempts to annex Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom faces a choice of two men who will do Northern Ireland no favours as Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson has already shown that he will cut Northern Ireland loose to satisfy the hardcore of his party in pursuit of a purist Brexit.
While Jeremy Corbyn’s past form on Northern Ireland means he is totally unfit to enter 10 Downing Street. The Ulster Unionist Party will never support a Corbyn-led Government.
While Brexit and national politics continue to dominate, our local services continue to suffer.
Our health service plunges deeper into crisis. Waiting lists are unprecedented. With more people than ever, waiting longer than ever.
We are a population of just 1.8million and over 300,000 of us are on a waiting list for a first time consultant-led appointment.
The National Health Service which has cared for our nation for over seventy years has been left leaderless at a time when it is being crippled.
It is a moral outrage that people are having to wait so long and that NHS staff are having to continue to work under the pressure that they do.
The National Health Service is the envy of the world because it offers healthcare from cradle to the grave for all.
It is nothing short of a scandal that by stealth we are moving to a two tier health system as those who can afford to go private increasingly do so while those who cannot languish on waiting lists.
If a crisis of these proportions existed in the NHS in any other region of the UK there would be outrage on a national scale.
We have the worst waiting times out of the four UK regions, numbers that would simply not be tolerated in England, Scotland or Wales.
That is why we are calling on the Prime Minister to declare a state of emergency in our health service.
The next UK Government must intervene immediately to implement special measures, including transferring health powers back to Westminster to allow decisions to begin being taken – something Lord Empey has taken the lead on in the House of Lords with his Private Members Bill.
Barnett Consequentials for pay awards must be ring fenced to provide for similar awards in Northern Ireland.
Given the dire circumstances, as an emergency measure we would ask that the Department of Finance borrow an additional £200m in revenue to free up elective care capacity, which in turn could make available resource for a new pay offer.
Action needs to be taken.
People cannot be allowed to come to harm because of political stalemate here.
The UK Government has an obligation to citizens in Northern Ireland and they deserve a health system that is fit for purpose and meeting their needs.
They also deserve political institutions that are fit for purpose.
If devolution is going to be restored in a lasting way then we should not rush back simply because the demands of one party or another has been met.
For devolution to be lasting, we need to see major reform.
All trust between local parties has been eroded. To enter back into an Assembly and Executive in the current atmosphere without fundamental reform would be to do so on very shaky foundations.
There must be meaningful change to how we do business here to ensure that the mistakes of the past aren’t replicated.
I am without a doubt that a fully functional devolved Assembly and Executive serving local people is the best scenario for us all.
But we cannot close our eyes to the fact that things went very badly wrong before the institutions collapsed in 2017.
Three years of political stalemate have been devastating, the crisis in health compounded, our schools stretched to breaking point and a horrific situation awaits thousands of households if welfare reform mitigations are not renewed.
The upcoming talks process must not be viewed as simply a means of getting over a bump in the road. It must be viewed as an opportunity to transform our politics and rebuild public confidence in the institutions.
We must go back to the spirit of the Belfast Agreement and truly sharing power. The days of domination over one another must come to an end.
The solutions are all there. This is not the most difficult hurdle that we have overcome politically.
The biggest challenge is whether parties are willing to change their attitudes and embrace open, transparent and accountable politics.
If the answer to this is no then the Secretary of State must act. This farce cannot continue for another calendar year. If by mid-January there is still not agreement then direct rule must be implemented.
We cannot just sit back while public services spiral into further crisis and deal with the fallout of Brexit with one hand tied behind our back. If politicians here aren’t willing to take up their responsibilities, then they should be relieved of their duties and direct rule minister put in place.
We are just at the tip of the iceberg. The problems in the health service will get worse. The problems in education will get worse. Our people will suffer.
We need Ministers in place to take decisions on:
Protecting communities – Patten recommended 7500 full time police officers to keep our people safe. Ulster Unionists will seek additional funds from the UK Government to make up the shortfall.
Giving our children the best chance of success – we will continue to promote our vision for a single education system where children of all faiths and none are educated together.
Tackling the climate emergency – Ulster Unionists will support a new Environmental Protection Act including targets for net zero carbon emissions by 2035. We must be aspirational to give our children and grandchildren a future.
Preventing the rewriting of history – the Ulster Unionist Party will continue to oppose the Historical Investigations Unit. All victims and survivors deserve truth and justice, that is why we will never support the creation of a one-sided and parallel police force. The DUP should join us in opposition to this.
This election offers the opportunity to send a message to the DUP and Sinn Fein that you are fed up with them shirking their responsibilities.
That you are totally fed up with incompetence, greed and scandal ridden politics.
This election really does offer an opportunity for change.
It is an opportunity to elect Members of Parliament who will oppose Boris Johnson’s deal and any attempt to make Northern Ireland a place apart from the rest of the United Kingdom.
It is an opportunity to elect MPs who will offer positive, progressive, pro-union politics.
It is an opportunity to elect Ulster Unionists who are committed to making Northern Ireland work into our second century and beyond.
It is an opportunity to elect MPs who want to make Northern Ireland a vibrant, modern part of a vibrant, modern Union.
Northern Ireland needs change.
Let’s make that change together.
Vote Ulster Unionist on 12 December