Ulster Unionists see no gain in losing Major

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Ulster Unionist MPs are highly unlikely to lend their weight to any push to get rid of the Government, seeing little or no political advantage in hastening the election of a Labour government.

The feeling among the nine MPs is that the parliamentary arithmetic does not in any event give them a decisive say in whether or not the Major government should survive or fall.

But underlying this is a strong sense that it would make no political sense to throw away the considerable leverage which they presently enjoy over a government which is clearly anxious to retain their goodwill.

The decision on how the MPs will play the Hogg vote of censure will, as is traditional, be taken only in the hours before the vote, but sources among them say it is most unlikely that they will vote against the Government. Even if they do, they will not wish to repeat this in a subsequent confidence vote.

The party's leader, David Trimble, may have more radical instincts, but it is clear that a majority of the nine are reasonably content with John Major's present attitude towards them and see no reason for discarding what they regard as an advantageous position. One MP said yesterday: "There is no wave of pressure saying throw them out, none at all."

In Belfast and Dublin yesterday it was suspected that the continued refusal of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, to offer an apology for the 13 deaths of Bloody Sunday 25 years ago, was at least partly due to a desire to keep the Unionists on board.

Sir Patrick said at the weekend that an apology was for criminal wrong- doing and there was nothing to indicate this had happened.