Tory MP quits to fight Ulster seat for DUP

Ben Russell,Political Correspondent
Thursday 03 October 2002 00:00
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A right-wing Conservative backbencher announced yesterday that he was resigning to join the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party as a candidate for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Andrew Hunter, the Tory MP for Basingstoke, will sit as an independent in the Commons but will stand down from Westminster at the next election. In a letter to party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, he said: "As you know, I have a long-standing and deep interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland. It has been suggested that I stand for the Northern Ireland Assembly in the elections next May as a DUP candidate."

Mr Hunter, who has been MP for Basingstoke since 1983, said he was leaving because the Conservative Party constitution barred him from standing as a DUP candidate for the Stormont Assembly. He told Mr Duncan Smith: "I wish to assure you that in practice this will make little difference. I remain one of your most loyal supporters and I shall continue to support you in the House of Commons."

His decision was also influenced by his wife Jan's cancer. The couple plan to return to Northern Ireland and repurchase part of their old family farm in Co Londonderry.

Mr Hunter has a long-held interest in Northern Ireland affairs; he served on the House of Commons' Northern Ireland Affairs Committee between 1994 and 2001.

A former Territorial Army major who taught English and classics at Harrow school, Mr Hunter is a controversial figure on the right of the Conservative Party. He was forced to stand down from the board of the magazine Right Now earlier this year over inflammatory articles about race.

Mr Hunter is also a former member of the Monday Club, but left after Mr Duncan Smith suspended the organisation from the Tory party a year ago.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "I'm very sorry that Andrew has decided to retire from Westminster politics but I fully understand his reasons. "I wish his wife Jan a full recovery and hope they will be very happy in their retirement. I appreciate the dignified way that Andrew has conducted his announcement. He will always be a friend of the party and a friend of mine."

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