By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The Ulster Unionist MP, John Taylor, will not run for reelection in his Strangford constituency in the upcoming British general election, expected in May, but will remain on as an assemblyman and deputy leader of the UUP.
The surprise announcement came on Monday, with Taylor citing pressure of work and his anticipated nomination to the proposed Police Board. More cynical minds, however, have pointed to the growing popularity of his DUP rival in Strangford, Iris Robinson.
Taylor has been an MP for 18 years and was home affairs minister in the Stormont regime before it was prorogued by the British government. In recent years, he has been regarded as a kingmaker within the Ulster Unionist Party.
"I want to contribute more to the success of the Stormont Assembly," Taylor said. "I have no intention of withdrawing from active politics."
Taylor, who’s 63, has given occasional warnings he was considering withdrawing his support for the Good Friday agreement, but at other times his support for the party leader, David Trimble, has been vital.
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He survived an Official IRA assassination attempt in Armagh in 1972, for which he required emergency surgery to his face. His decision to stand down comes at the same time that Ken Maginnis, MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, is also leaving Westminster.
UUP delegates in that constituency chose on Monday night to elect a pro-agreement candidate to contest the next Westminster elections. The UUP vice-chairman, James Cooper, narrowly defeated anti-agreement Arlene Foster by 178 votes to 169.
Cooper has acted as Maginnis’s election agent for 18 years and helped him secure a majority of 13,688 at the last Westminster election. Foster is a close ally of anti-agreement Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson, and a daughter-in-law of UUP Environment Minister Sam Foster.
Last weekend, the deputy leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson, hinted the party might stand aside in Fermanagh/South Tyrone if the UUP selected an anti-agreement candidate. This did not happen and the DUP is now expected to field Maurice Morrow, from Dungannon, at the election.