Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, has ruled out standing as an MP if a general election is called.
She is currently an MLA – member of the legislative assembly – at Stormont but the seat of Northern Ireland’s devolved government has been suspended since 2017 after the collapse of a power-sharing deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin.
Her Northern Ireland assembly constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone is also a UK parliamentary constituency and has moved between unionism and nationalism in recent general elections.
Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew held the seat from 2001, but lost in 2015 to Ulster Unionist party candidate Tom Elliott after the DUP stood aside in a unionist pact. Gildernew regained the seat in 2017.
Foster said on Friday that she would not be a candidate if a general election was called. There had been speculation that she could seek a Westminster seat.
“My focus is very much on the return of devolution and the return of Stormont, that’s what I am focused on,” she said. “That and the fact that I want to see a deal to leave the European Union, I think those two big issues will be taking up a lot of my time over the coming weeks.”
Foster said that she believes the focus should be on a Brexit deal, rather than a general election. But she added: “If an election is called, we’ll be ready to fight the election and we will go forward on our record of delivery.”
Gildernew claimed Foster and her party were “running scared” of a general election. “Arlene Foster claims she wants to concentrate on restoring the powersharing institutions at Stormont. She cannot be serious, given the fact she’s had two-and-a-half years to work on restoring the political institutions,” she said.
“The DUP are currently not engaged meaningfully in any talks process [to return to power-sharing] – and have previously walked away from a deal. Their toxic pact with the Tories has brought chaos and dysfunction to politics here in the north and politics in Britain, while actively working against the interests of citizens. Arlene Foster and the DUP are running scared from the electorate.”