“It is great to be back in East Belfast to present our candidates and to launch our campaign for the Westminster election on 8 June.
This constituency was the scene of a DUP gain for Gavin at the last election and I’m hoping that will be a good omen for the future.
For the fourth time in just over two years we meet to set the agenda and to frame the choice for this election.
The stakes could not be higher for unionism and for Northern Ireland.
The Assembly election results on 2 March served as a wake up call for the unionist community.
This Westminster election gives unionism the chance to get back on the right track.
Make no mistake the party that has most Members of Parliament elected will be seen as the voice of Northern Ireland.
We launch our General Election campaign just ten weeks since the people of Northern Ireland cast their votes in the Assembly election.
Despite all that was thrown at us amid the difficult circumstances of the campaign we maintained our position as the largest political party in Northern Ireland.
Over 225,000 thousand people rallied to the call and gave us a mandate to continue shaping the future of Northern Ireland.
But despite the fact that we secured more votes than any party ever has at any Assembly election in this new era, Sinn Fein fell just one seat and about 1200 votes short of being Northern Ireland’s largest party and winning a mandate for their vision for the future.
During the last campaign we warned that the choice was simple and the result would be close and so it proved.
On June 8 we need unionists who stayed at home or voted for other unionist parties to unite behind their strongest unionist team.
If nothing else, the outcome of that election proved that people’s votes at the ballot box really mattered and every vote was vital.
Unionism suffered through division, through votes split and through a failure to transfer with in the unionist community.
As a result, Sinn Fein was emboldened and took the election result as a mandate to stop the re-formation of an Executive unless every last one of their demands were met.
The Prime Minister’s decision to hold a snap poll provides a basis to make the positive case for the Union.
At this election, we will seek a mandate for the Union that really matters – the Union with Great Britain. To make sure Northern Ireland gets the best Brexit deal. And to reach an honourable and not a one sided deal to get the Assembly up and running again to deal with the real problems that are faced by people in their everyday lives.
In recent months, there has been increased noise about the possibility of a United Ireland. Rather than be concerned about that debate we need to seize the moment and positively present the case for the Union that matters most to the future prosperity and well being of Northern Ireland – the Union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
For too long we have allowed others to set the agenda. Now is the time to make the detailed and undeniable case for the Union. This election provides a platform to start that work but we must commit ourselves to continue the work after the polls have closed.
I want to use the next five weeks of this campaign to build a positive campaign for the Union. To restate why the Union with Great Britain is so precious to us all and why it matters to the quality of life and the prosperity of everyone in Northern Ireland.
A few weeks ago I spoke to a gathering of unionists in Scotland about what makes the Union special; now I want to take that case all across Northern Ireland.
None of us need to be persuaded that the Union is so important to every aspect of our lives but it does not harm for that message to be reshaped and restated.
A general election is not a border poll but it is inevitably a referendum on Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.
March’s Assembly election result bucked the trend of all recent elections where unionism had been gaining and nationalism seemed to be in decline.
That is why it is essential that we can persuade people to go out and vote in every constituency across the Province.
Over the next five weeks we must go out and spread our message across Northern Ireland. We must persuade voters of the necessity of supporting our strong team of DUP candidates across the constituencies.
Without doubt we have the strongest, most talented and most experienced team of candidates, many of whom are already tried and tested when it comes to speaking up for Northern Ireland.
In this election, a vote for the Democratic Unionist Party is a vote for Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. Above all else we believe in the Union.
It is time for unionists to place their X and cast their vote where it will best serve the interests of unionism. At first past the post Westminster elections, split votes can be fatal for unionism. Split votes means fewer MPs and less influence at Westminster. And it means unionism punching beneath its weight.
I strongly believe in unionist co-operation and it was in that spirit that we held discussions with the Ulster Unionist Party about the General Election campaign. Time was short and on this occasion we were unable to conclude any formal agreement. I was pleased that both parties have made unilateral gestures in the wider unionist interest.
However, let me be clear that we remain willing after this election to engage positively with other fellow unionists on a range of issues.
This campaign must be about selling the merits of the Union and we must not fall into the trap of attacking fellow unionists.
In North Belfast the Ulster Unionists have stepped aside in favour of Nigel and in Fermanagh and South Tyrone we too have stood aside to allow the sitting unionist MP Tom Elliott to defend his seat.
I also acknowledge and welcome the decision of the Ulster Unionist Party not to field candidates in West Belfast and Foyle.
With or without a formal pact or unilateral gestures the choice for unionists in East and South Belfast is clear as well.
In East Belfast people know if they want to elect a unionist Member of Parliament then Gavin Robinson is their only choice and in South Belfast the DUP topped the poll in March.
So if you want a unionist Member of Parliament in South Belfast your only real choice is to vote for Emma Little Pengelly.
I am delighted this morning to announce our full DUP team for this election. Our team offer strength, depth and experience.
All our outgoing Members of Parliament have served their constituents faithfully and we have strong advocates for Northern Ireland in Nigel Dodds, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson, Gregory Campbell, Sammy Wilson, David Simpson, Ian Paisley jnr, and Jim Shannon.
I look forward to campaigning alongside them in the coming weeks.
In South Antrim our hard working local MLA Paul Girvan has been selected and will contest the seat bringing a love for the area and a track record for delivery that is second to none.
Unionists in South Antrim know it is the DUP that is best placed to strengthen Northern Ireland interests in Parliament and that Paul is someone who will always be on their side.
In North Down Alex Easton will again be our standard bearer. Alex is known for his dedication to his constituents and his determination to deliver for North Down.
Unionists in Foyle, West Tyrone, Mid-Ulster, Newry and Armagh, South Down and West Belfast will have the opportunity to turn out and support the Union and I appeal to unionists in those areas to remember that by turning out that are adding their support to a Province-wide cause.
Gary Middleton, Tom Buchanan, Keith Buchanan, William Irwin and Frank McCoubrey are all well-known advocates in their constituencies. I am delighted that Diane Forsythe has been selected to stand in South Down as our candidate and I know that she will have the benefit of the experience and know-how of Jim Wells during the campaign.
The message at this election is clear. If you want unionism to be strengthened then you should unite around the strongest unionist party.
A vote for DUP backed candidates is the strongest unionist vote; a vote for any other unionist candidate will split the vote, divide our resources and dilute our strength.
Now more than ever unionism needs to speak with one voice.
In Scotland unionists are maximising their strength by uniting around the Conservative Party.
In Northern Ireland we need people to unite around the Democratic Unionist Party.
Make no mistake, elections matter. On this occasion it does not appear likely that our votes will be required to help form a government at Westminster but the implications for politics in Northern Ireland could not be greater.
What we need is a mandate for unionism, for a deal to get Northern Ireland back on track and for the restoration of the Assembly and Executive.
How people vote at this election and how many seats we have will determine not just individual Members of Parliament but the shape and direction of our country thereafter.
Unionism needs its strongest team.
It needs to work together.
Northern Ireland needs one strong unionist voice leading from the front to protect our place in the union and to get the best deal for Northern Ireland.
We are that voice.
We are proud to be standing strong for Northern Ireland.
Over the next five weeks let us go out, confidently selling our message, building our support so that we can make our vision a reality.”