Conservatives winding up the UUP?

If you tilt your head towards East Belfast, hold your breath and listen carefully, you’ll be able to hear the sound of chuckling from UUP HQ.

Jeff Peel has blogged this morning about an audacious, bold, and unlikely-to-be-considered offer from the Conservative Party to the UUP.

I was today forwarded a letter that has been sent to all members of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland. The letter suggests that the Conservative Party chairman, Lord Feldman of Elstree, has addressed a letter to the Ulster Unionist leader, Tom Elliott, outlining an offer to “move Conservatism forward in Northern Ireland.”

The letter continues, “This offer will involve the dissolution of the UUP early next year and the formation of a new Conservative led party, under the constitution of the national Conservative party, which will operate along the lines of the parties in Scotland and Wales.

“This offer is being made with the express approval of the Prime Minister, the Board of the Conservative Party, as well as the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservative Party, Irwin Armstrong.

“It proposes a Northern Ireland Conservative party which can reach out to everyone in Northern Ireland, irrespective of background and tradition, unencumbered by the conflict and divisions which mark our past.”

Jeff suggests that “the move almost certainly means that a large cohort of UUP members has broken ranks with the UUP leadership and now wants to do business with the Conservative Party – while building a new local, non-sectarian identity”.

While the Secretary of State dropped into the recent UUP party conference in Armagh, there was no suggestion from the leadership that the ongoing talks with the Conservative Party were going to lead to a formalised link-up … or folding.