May 30, 2024

Robin Swann to step down as health minister when election called as possible replacement named

Mr Swann is the UUP’s candidate in South Antrim, and is aiming to retake the Westminster seat from the DUP’s Paul Girvan.

He said today that once the election is called and campaigning begins he will give up his seat at the Executive table.

Mr Swann said it would be “rational” for Mr Nesbitt, his party colleague, to replace him.

The Prime Minister has indicated a general election will be held later this year, most likely in November.

“Double-jobbing” – holding seats in both Westminster and Stormont – was banned in 2016.

Mr Swann told the BBC’s Sunday Politics: “My intention would not be to stay right up until polling day because purdah will kick in and there will be other stages as well.

“So that decision will be made long before the election day is called, by my party leader.”

Mr Swann (52) has been MLA for North Antrim since 2011. However, in January the Belfast Telegraph reported that he would switch constituencies for the general election, moving to South Antrim in a bid to unseat Mr Girvan.

The UUP held the South Antrim seat from 2015 to 2017 when Danny Kinahan was MP.

Mr Girvan won it back for the DUP in 2017 and held it at the 2019 election with a 2,689-vote majority.

Mr Swann’s profile has been raised after serving as health minister following the return of Stormont in 2020, helping to lead Northern Ireland through the Covid pandemic.

He returned to the role when the political institutions were restored in February,

However, concerns had been raised over whether Mr Swann could act as health minister while campaigning to become an MP.

UUP leader Doug Beattie had said he may have to look at options including withdrawing Mr Swann from the running to become MP for South Antrim or preparing another candidate as health minister.

Mr Swann told the BBC he was making the announcement today that he would stand down as health minister because he wanted to be straight with people.

He added: “I need to be clear as well when we talk about Westminster candidates and the current Executive.

“If you look across other parties and constituencies as well. It’s obvious that some of the Executive colleagues sitting around the executive table at the minute are also going to be candidates.

“One of the things we’ve done as a party, one of the things that I’ve done, we’ve actually come out and said it and been honest with the people.”

Mr Nesbitt, a former UUP leader, has been appointed as the private secretary to the health minister and is due to start the role soon.

Mr Swann said it would be for Mr Beattie, as party leader, to decide whether Mr Nesbitt was to replace him as health minister.

“It could be the thinking of my party leader, yes,” he said. “It would be a rational approach in regards to that.”

In February a Belfast Telegraph poll found voters were finely split on whether ministers in the Executive should continue in their roles if they are also running for election to Westminster.

The LucidTalk survey showed that 48% of respondents believe it is “acceptable” to continue to serve as an Executive Minister while campaigning for election to Parliament, while 46% are opposed. Out of the 3,207 responses, just 6% were undecided on the matter.

A general election has to be held by January 28 2025, but is almost certain to take place earlier.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he expects to go to the polls “in the second half” of this year.

However, there has been ongoing speculation that Mr Sunak could go to the country earlier.

Reports at the weekend suggested he could opt for a summer election, possibly in early July.

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