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Steve Aiken to resign as leader of Ulster Unionist Party

Aiken will remain in his post until a successor is chosen.

Image: Press Association

ULSTER UNIONIST PARTY leader Steve Aiken has announced his intention to resign from the position.

In a letter to party chairman Danny Kennedy, Aiken said he believed he had taken the party as far as he could.

“To achieve our goals, we now need new leadership,” he wrote.

Aiken said he will remain in politics and continue as a South Antrim MLA. He will also remain UUP leader until a successor is chosen.

“May I say what a privilege it has been to lead our party in these difficult and trying times,” Aiken wrote.

While leadership of a political party has many highs and lows, it has been my work with our elected representatives, in particular our MLA team, that has given me the greatest confidence for the future of our great party.
Aiken was elected unopposed in 2019. The Ulster Unionist Party holds 10 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and none of Northern Ireland’s 18 seats in the House of Commons.
Discussing his time as leader, Aiken said he took pride in the party’s decision to take on the challenging health minister portfolio when Stormont was restored in 2020.

He said his party colleague and former leader Robin Swann had been successful in his efforts to tackle the pandemic.

aiken-22 Aiken and his wife Beth when he was confirmed as UUP leader in 2019. Source: PA

“However, despite our successes, it has become clear to me that if we are to achieve the breakthrough in the forthcoming Assembly elections, we will need to drive further ahead,” Aiken wrote to the party chairman.

“To represent the brand of unionism that builds on hope and not fear, and provides a clear, modern, alternative that will be both the future of our party and Northern Ireland, will require strong leadership.”

He insisted unionism needed positive, hopeful and progressive leadership.

“The last few months have been a momentous time for our Union and for Northern Ireland,” he wrote.

“It is also a time when unionism, more than ever, needs positive, hopeful and progressive leadership; leadership which I strongly believe only the Ulster Unionist Party can provide.

“Our party has delivered for the people of Northern Ireland for many years and in the centenary of Northern Ireland continues to do what is right – not just for unionists, but for everyone.”

In a written reply to Aiken, party chairman Kennedy said he “regretfully” acknowledged his decision to resign.

“On behalf of the officers and the entire party I want to express my deep appreciation for the service you have rendered as leader and pay tribute to your unstinting efforts to promote our raison d’etre – the maintenance and preservation of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom,” he wrote.

With reporting by Céimin Burke

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