Steve Aiken to become Ulster Unionist leader, party confirms

UUP MLA Steve Aiken
UUP MLA Steve Aiken

Former Royal Navy commander Steve Aiken will be elected leader of the Ulster Unionists unopposed, the party has revealed.

The 57-year-old has been an MLA for South Antrim since 2016.

On Wednesday night, a UUP spokesman said: “Nominations for the position of leader of the Ulster Unionist Party closed today at 4pm.

“There was one nomination received, for Dr Steve Aiken OBE MLA, who will now go forward to the party EGM on the 9th of November for ratification.”

Last week, Mr Aiken said he believed the United Kingdom would be better off remaining in the European Union than leaving with the current deal being proposed.

Speaking on the BBC’s Nolan Show, he said the DUP was prepared to accept a Brexit settlement that would undermine Northern Ireland’s position within the UK.

“We are now in a situation where Northern Ireland is increasingly hived off, and everybody is now realising that there needs to be another solution to what, in effect, is Northern Ireland becoming a place which is very separate,” he said.

“One of the question we need to ask is, are we better off staying as we are now than going down any of these alignments. At the present moment in time I think we would be better off remaining [in the EU].”

Earlier this month, Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie ruled himself out of the race to succeed Robin Swann as UUP leader.

In a statement issued on social media, Mr Beattie instead endorsed Steve Aiken as Mr Swann’s successor.

He said: “The Ulster Unionist Party must remain vigilant in the face of Brexit as well as a possible General Election and I believe a leadership contest would be a distraction in this compressed political environment.

“Therefore I do not intend to stand for the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party but to endorse Steve Aiken OBE MLA for the party leadership. He will, if duly elected, have the authority to bring the party onto a more progressive path both internally and externally and he will have my 100% support and loyalty.”