The Ulster Unionist Party has announced it will step aside in North Belfast to allow Democratic Unionist deputy leader Nigel Dodds a clear run in the constituency.

In a statement today, incoming UUP leader Steve Aiken said the decision came after discussions with senior political and community figures across North Belfast.

"In doing so we listened respectfully to all views expressed, including deeply-held concerns that they will be unrepresented in Westminster in the critical months ahead," he said.

"It is better to elect Nigel Dodds in North Belfast and hold him to account for his promises on the Union than facilitate the election of an abstentionist Sinn Féin MP who still cannot condemn IRA violence."

Yesterday, the DUP said it would step aside for the UUP in the Fermanagh South Tyrone constituency in next month's British general election.

DUP leader Arlene Foster had said she believes in unionist co-operation and parties working together to maximise representation.

However the incoming UUP leader had indicated he was not in favour of participating in unionist pacts for the 12 December poll. Previously, he had indicated that the UUP would run candidates across Northern Ireland's 18 constituencies.

A unionist pact saw the UUP's Tom Elliott win the Fermanagh South Tyrone Westminster seat in 2015, but Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew won the seat back in 2017.

Mr Elliott has refused to confirm if he will stand in the forthcoming election.

He told the PA news agency that he is not prepared to confirm if he plans to run as a candidate.

"There is a selection meeting this week, I am not saying anything more at the moment," he said.

It is understood that the UUP's Fermanagh South Tyrone selection meeting will take place on Thursday.

Sinn Féin last week singled out Mr Dodds, who won a majority of just over 2,000 votes in North Belfast in 2017, as one of its key targets as it aims to increase its number of MPs from seven to eight.

The party is running Belfast Lord Mayor John Finucane against Mr Dodds.

Mr Finucane has appealed unionists opposed to Brexit to back him in the election on 12 December.

In a statement he said there is "now no unionist candidate representing those [in North Belfast] who voted to remain in Europe."

It emerged last week that police are investigating threats again Ulster Unionist staff members over the electoral pact row