I’ve been consulting oracles about whether a short cut to unionist unity could be achieved without a full blown merger of the DUP and UUP. The aim is to discover whether it would be possible to prevent the appointment of a Sinn Fein First Minister by creating something like a united unionist coalition/council grouping that would be recognised as a party for the purpose of appointing and electing ministers. I leave the politics of this entirely aside, whether it would be good for politics generally or not. Sinn Fein and nationalism generally would be unlikely to take it lying down and it would hardly delight the Conservatives.
The lawyer and legal commentator Austen Morgan who has advised David Trimble in his time suggests it probably comes down to the meaning of political party in the NIA 1998 as amended
You go on to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, where political parties are registered under section 23.
The quick answer is that if it is registered in NI under the 2000 Act, it is a political party under the NI Act 1998. Now, what gets you registered? The answer is related to standing for elections.
If the DUP and the UUP register themselves as a joint entity for standing in elections, they could be home and dry. Are joint candidates possible without a full merger? Let the debate continue.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London