Allister insists TUV/Reform UK offers opportunity to ‘maximise’ pro-Union vote

A strong showing for the TUV in the General Election will maximise unionist support in Northern Ireland rather than undermine the pro-Union cause, Jim Allister has insisted.

Leader Mr Allister dismissed the argument his party could contribute to a reduction in the overall number of unionist MPs returning to Westminster if the pro-Union vote is significantly split and the DUP fail to retain one or more seats as a result.

The TUV, which did not run in the 2019 General Election, has formed an electoral alliance with Reform UK ahead of July’s poll and is standing in 14 constituencies in Northern Ireland.

While it will only be the TUV name on the ballot paper on July 4, the parties will promote a joint TUV/Reform UK message on the campaign trail.

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage is not expected to canvass with TUV candidates in Northern Ireland, but deputy leader Ben Habib is set to travel to the region before polling day.

General Election campaign 2024
Jim Allister (fourth from left) with party candidates for the Westminster elections (Liam McBurney/PA)

In a pre-election interview with the PA news agency, Mr Allister characterised TUV/Reform UK as the “authentic voice” of opposition to post-Brexit trading barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

He claimed if the party did not stand it would leave tens of thousands of unionists without anyone to vote for.

Asked if a drop in the overall number of unionist MPs would be seized upon by those advocating Irish unity, Mr Allister insisted the total votes for unionism was the more telling metric in gauging sentiment on the constitutional question.

“I think one of the important components of TUV/Reform UK participating is it gives unionism an opportunity to maximise the vote,” he said.

“And in the ongoing agitation about a border poll, it’s the total unionist turnout that is the antidote to that.

“So if TUV and Reform UK – the anti-protocol (Northern Ireland Protocol) genuine party – was not in this election, then tens of thousands of unionists wouldn’t have anyone to vote for.

“By being in this election, we give those people cause to vote, and therefore we maximise the unionist vote.

“So, it is critically important, apart from the issue of seats, that the unionist vote is maximised. And without TUV/Reform UK, it wouldn’t be.”

Mr Allister, who is running as a candidate in North Antrim, also insisted a strong turnout for the TUV would “reopen” the issue of post-Brexit trade barriers and put pressure on the DUP to take more decisive action on the contentious UK-EU agreed Northern Ireland Protocol and its successor, the Windsor Framework.

He claimed his unionist rivals surrendered their leverage on forcing changes when they dropped their two year blockade on devolution and returned to Stormont in February without achieving “anything of substance”.

Mr Allister accused the DUP of misleading the electorate on the contents of the UK Government’s recent Safeguarding the Union command paper – a document which prompted their Stormont return – and suggested the electorate should think twice before trusting them again.

“I think people know that it’s TUV that has always called it right on the protocol,” he added.

“If people want to be heard, loud and clear, unmistakably clear, in their opposition to the Union-dismantling protocol, in the demand that the partitioning Irish Sea border must go, that we must escape from rule by a foreign parliament, through laws we don’t make and can’t change – then the vote that will convey that will be a vote for TUV/Reform UK.

“It is the TUV/Reform UK votes that will be unmistakably those declaring themselves against the Union-dismantling protocol.”

He added: “So I think a strong showing for TUV in this election reopens the protocol issue and requires the DUP, looking after themselves, to man up on the protocol issue.

“And I think every vote for TUV will put some backbone and strength into them.”

Mr Allister insisted the solution to the protocol issue was a “mutual recognition” system whereby the EU and UK agreed to check goods entering the other’s jurisdiction.

“If each side did that then you’ve solved the protocol issue,” he said.

“But, of course, that was not the avenue taken. Instead, we had this sovereignty grab from Brussels, which insisted on treating Northern Ireland as continuing EU territory.

“Unless and until that is reversed, then there is no settlement of the protocol issue.”

TUV leader Jim Allister in a suit and tie
TUV leader Jim Allister is standing in North Antrim (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA)

Asked about the prospect of the UK ultimately developing a closer relationship with the EU, potentially under a Labour government, Mr Allister acknowledged that could be one way of ensuring Northern Ireland was once again treated in the same way as the rest of the UK.

“We joined the EU as one nation, the problem is we didn’t leave it as one nation, we left Northern Ireland behind,” he said.

“So, by coalescing all of the UK into the same position or relationship with the EU, then of course you can ameliorate some of the outrageous situations that Northern Ireland has been put into.

“I want to be part of the United Kingdom, if the United Kingdom, in its wisdom, decides that realignment is for the whole United Kingdom, then that’s something, whether I like it or not, will happen. And, if it happens, it does ameliorate some of the protocol issues.

“But the fundamental is the disparity in treatment of Northern Ireland, the fact that we were abandoned like a colony to the EU.

“And so long as that prevails, there can be no settlement of this issue.”