N. Ireland Politics

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt calls for SDLP to work as Stormont opposition 'co-equals'

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt
Image caption Mike Nesbitt said the Ulster Unionists would be "unshackled" in opposition

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has called on his Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) counterpart to work with him as "co-equals" in opposition in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr Nesbitt and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said last month they would not join the Northern Ireland Executive.

On Sunday, Mr Nesbitt said the two parties have had talks about taking a joint approach to their opposition.

"If we are going to work together, it will be as co-equals on this," he said.

"I've already gone out of my way to say to Colum: 'You are the leader of the SDLP, you're not the deputy leader of anything.'"

Relationship

Mr Nesbitt told the BBC's Sunday Politics programme that while the parties have yet to reach a formal agreement has been made, he hoped they could strike a deal.

"We're not going to be rushed into anything," he said.

"The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin have been working on their relationship for nine years, so I think we can take a little bit of time to get this right."

The DUP and Sinn Féin have formed an executive at Stormont, with independent unionist Claire Sugden appointed as justice minister.

Transparent

Monday will be the first full day of business in the new assembly term and Mr Nesbitt said the Ulster Unionist Party was "unshackled" in opposition.

"What we had in the past two mandates was nine years where you had five and then four parties in government but actually the smaller parties being bossed by the two big ones," he said.

"The fact that we now have the two parties themselves alone in government is a more honest, open and transparent way to do business.

"We are unshackled now and we can say exactly what we think about what the executive is doing."

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