UUP leader warns of united Ireland by back door
The Ulster Unionist leader has accused those pushing for special status for Northern Ireland after Brexit of trying to create a "united Ireland by the back door".
Robin Swann said such a move would lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom and would set Northern Ireland "adrift" outside the union with Great Britain.
He also dismissed nationalists calls for an Irish border poll as "nonsense".
Mr Swann was speaking at the launch of his party's manifesto in Templepatrick.
The eight-page document set out the party's key priorities for the Westminster election and the Brexit negotiations.
He said: "Special status for Northern Ireland brings with it all sorts of connotations which effectively leaves Northern Ireland outside the United Kingdom rather than inside."
Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Alliance have all called for special status for Northern Ireland post-Brexit.
In response, the Ulster Unionist leader said: "Those who promote "special status" are calling for the break-up of the United Kingdom.
"It is an attempt by some to create a united Ireland by the back door."
The Ulster Unionist leader also warned against moving the border to the "middle of the Irish sea".
"There can be no passport checks for citizens of Northern Ireland arriving in Cairnryan or Heathrow," he added.
On the prospect of a border poll, Mr Swann said such a move would only serve to "sectarianise" every election in Northern Ireland.
"One of the threats I see from a border poll is not the first border poll," he said.
"It is the fact that, according to the Belfast Agreement, we get into a seven-year cycle - with a border poll every seven years."
He also attacked Sinn Féin - which is targeting the Ulster Unionist seat in Fermanagh and South Tyrone - for taking their expenses but not their seats at Westminster.
"An abstentionist MP is no MP at all, every seat not taken weakens Northern Ireland's influence at Westminster," he said.
On the stalemate at Stormont, the UUP manifesto sets out five key reforms for restoring the institutions.
- Making ministers more accountable and subject to sanction
- Greater powers for Northern Ireland Assembly committees to scrutinise the work and expenditure of ministers
- Fundamental reform of Stormont's Petition of Concern mechanism
- Reforming the budgetary process to make it more transparent
- Better regulation on how the Northern Ireland Executive operates
Mr Swann also warned that public confidence in the institutions had been badly damaged by recent scandals such as those involving the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, Red Sky and the Irish National Asset Management Agency (Nama).
"It is outrageous that Northern Ireland has been left drifting without a government now for five months," Mr Swann said.
He added the impact on public services was starting to bite.
"While others have been preaching about respect and supposedly standing up to the Tories, the reality is that the crisis in public services has been deepening.
"Only last week, the latest health waiting times were published which revealed over a quarter of a million outpatients waiting for an appointment."
The Ulster Unionists are fielding 14 candidates in the general election and the party is facing a battle to retain its two seats in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and South Antrim.