William Hague has reconfirmed the Conservatives strong commitment to Northern Ireland, saying David Cameron will never be neutral on the Union. Speaking at the launch of the Conservatives and Unionists manifesto, the Shadow Foreign Secretary also said that the Conservative and Unionists were the only party to have a clear plan to re-balance the Northern Ireland economy to end its over-dependence on the public sector, while also protecting key frontline public services.
Speaking at the manifesto launch, William Hague said:
"I'm delighted to be here in Northern Ireland today to launch our Conservatives and Unionists manifesto for this General Election.
"And it's a great pleasure to be doing this in the South Antrim constituency alongside Reg Empey.
"Reg is a distinguished minister in the Northern Ireland Executive and is rightly admired for his courtesy and integrity in an age of political scandal.
"He will make an outstanding Member of Parliament, as will any of our Conservative and Unionist candidates who are here today.
"Without doubt we have the strongest and most able team of any political party in Northern Ireland at this election.
"And each of them is ready to serve as tireless champions for the people of Northern Ireland at the heart of the Union in Westminster.
"I am proud of the fact that because of the alliance between our two great parties we are the only political force putting up candidates in every part of the United Kingdom.
"We are the one truly national, United Kingdom party standing in Northern Ireland at this election.
"Any of our candidates elected here will take their place as part of David Cameron's team with exactly the same rights and responsibilities as Conservatives from Scotland, Wales, England… and Yorkshire.
"And any of them will have exactly the same opportunity to serve as a minister as MPs from anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
"Imagine the message that would be sent around the world if, in time, the Foreign Secretary or the Home Secretary, the Environment Secretary or even the Prime Minister in a UK Government sat for a constituency in Northern Ireland.
"There would be no better way of saying that the semi-detached status of Northern Ireland had come to an end and that Northern Ireland was back in the mainstream of British politics.
"So between now and 6 May let everybody who cares about Northern Ireland's future; about the Union; and about getting rid of Gordon Brown from Downing Street and replacing him with David Cameron get behind these candidates as never before so that we can push on to victory.
"This election is crucial. And the choice is simple. However the Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties try and muddy the waters by campaigning for the instability of a hung parliament.
"It's about 5 more years of the same with Gordon Brown or change with David Cameron.
"At the end of this, when the votes are counted one of them will be Prime Minister of our United Kingdom.
"Not Nick Clegg. Not Peter Robinson. And certainly not Gerry Adams. Gordon Brown or David Cameron. That's the choice.
"Five more years of a man who has virtually bankrupted our country, taken us through the deepest recession in memory, done nothing to repair our broken society and presided over political scandal after political scandal - or David Cameron with the leadership, the ideas and the determination to deliver the change our country needs.
"And, as if I had to remind you, five more years of a man who thinks that the British Government should be neutral on the Union, or David Cameron who has said that he will never be neutral on the Union.
"It's because of our shared belief in the Union, and our passion for the United Kingdom, that we are here together today.
"But it's also about our values and our vision for that Union.
"We reject the little Ulster mentality, just as we reject the little Scotland, little Wales or little England mentality across the rest of our country.
"We believe in a big Union, outward looking, tolerant and generous.
"And we believe in a Union for all, in which everyone, whatever their background is treated equally and equitably.
"We are proud of what our four countries have achieved together in the past - the shared sacrifices as well as the shared victories.
"But equally we are optimistic about what our country can achieve together in the future.
"That is what the manifesto we are launching today offers - a mixture of change, optimism and hope.
"It's a manifesto that says things don't have to go on like this.
"It's a manifesto that sets out how we can repair our broken economy; how we can mend our broken society; and how we can fix our broken politics.
"And it's a manifesto to put Northern Ireland at the heart of the Union.
"So, on the economy we'll tackle the deficit to keep mortgages lower for longer; we'll stop Labour's jobs tax that would wreck the recovery and we'll cut corporation tax across the United Kingdom.
"And here in Northern Ireland we'll look at how we create an economic enterprise zone, and we'll bring forward a government paper on the mechanisms for lowering corporation tax.
"We'll also consult on the introduction of a fair fuel stabiliser that will help every family and every business in Northern Ireland.
"And we'll help our farmers by supporting the long-term sustainability of UK agriculture; by minimising repetitive on-farm inspections; working to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board; and introducing real honesty into food labelling.
"Let me just stress for a moment the importance of tackling the deficit. This year the British Government will spend £42 billion alone on interest payments on what it borrows.
"That's more than double public expenditure for the whole of Northern Ireland. It's money that will never be invested in our schools, our hospitals or on our Armed Forces.
"So we need to get it under control, and that's what a Conservative and Unionist Government will do but in a measured and responsible way that allows us to protect key frontline public services.
"We want to re-balance the Northern Ireland economy to end its over-dependence on the public sector. But we recognise that it will take time, perhaps as long as 25 years.
"To do nothing would be irresponsible. But to do anything too quickly would be a reckless too.
"On society, we'll seek to turn the UK into the most family friendly country in Europe. So we'll recognise marriage in the tax system; we'll extend flexible working for people with children age 18 and under; and for pensioners we'll restore the link between the basic state pension and earnings.
"On politics we'll clean up the House of Commons; we'll ban the scandal of double-jobbing at Stormont and Westminster; and we'll give voters the right to sack their MP if they are found guilty of serious wrongdoing.
"There are other commitments specific to Northern Ireland, like no more costly and open ended inquiries into the past; no universal Recognition Payments; and any Northern Ireland specific rights to be incorporated into our UK Bill of Rights that will replace Labour's Human Rights Act.
"And one more thing. A Conservative and Unionist Government will make sure that our brave men and women in our Armed Forces and of whom we are so proud will have the support they need.
"These are the commitments that a Conservative and Unionist Government will deliver.
"But to deliver first we have to win.
"It can be seductive to think that the best thing for Northern Ireland would be a hung parliament in which MPs from here join up with the Scottish and Welsh nationalists to hold the UK government to ransom.
"I believe that view is dangerous for two reasons.
"It would prevent any government taking the decisions that are necessary to get the recovery moving. Instead of action politicians would be locked in endless negotiations.
"And it could hand over excessive influence to parties like the SNP and Plaid Cymru who are dedicated to tearing up the Union.
"So be in no doubt. On 6 May we need a Conservative Government with a decisive mandate for change across our United Kingdom.
"A Conservative and Unionist Government that will repair our economy.
"A Conservative and Unionist Government that will mend our society.
"A Conservative and Unionist Government that will fix our politics.
"And a Conservative and Unionist Government that will put Northern Ireland at the very heart of the Union."