Northern Ireland

McCallister and Nesbitt will contest UUP leadership

John MCCallister , Mike Nesbitt
Image caption Either John McCallister or Mike Nesbitt will be elected at the party's AGM on 31 March

The Ulster Unionist Party has confirmed that two candidates will vie for the position of party leader.

Either South Down MLA John McCallister or Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt will be elected at the party's AGM on 31 March.

On Friday, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said he would not be standing.

He said a potentially difficult and divisive leadership election was not in the interest of the party.

Nominations for the leadership closed at 17:00 GMT on Friday.

The Newry and Armagh MLA said he had not made any deals with the other candidates.

Mr Kennedy told the BBC that he had put the future of the party ahead of any personal ambition to be leader.

"I had sufficient support, strong support, from both the constituencies and elected colleagues but I feel strongly, having considered it carefully, that a divisive leadership election would not be in the best interests of the party," he said.

"On that basis I am not going to be submitting my name as party leader.

"It is a matter of judgement as to not what's best for Danny Kennedy, but what's best for the Ulster Unionist Party.

"When you have been in the party as long as I have - 38 years served at all levels, been part of the tremendous changes that we have seen over the years - I think you know what's in the best interests of the party."

Mr Kennedy also rejected any suggestion he had negotiated a deal to remain on as regional development minister under either new leader.

"That will be entirely a matter for the new party leader," he said.

"Whilst Mike and John and I have had discussions, and they have been very considered, no deal has been done and I make my decision on the basis of it being in the best interests of the Ulster Unionist Party and for the long-term future of the party."

More on this story