So, faced with two suitors, the UUP has opted for the Tories over the DUP.
Rumours of a merger between the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP are untrue, party leader Empey said. No deal had been made and said the UUP were 100% committed to their link with the Conservatives.
There was certainly a momentary wobble – which lasted from the secret talks hosted by the Orange Order in December through to the revelation of the 'unionist unity' talks in England in January. But having weighed up the pros and cons (or, more likely, the views expressed by individual members, such as the deeply unhappy Alex Kane), the UUP has decided to throw its lot in with the Tories, under a 'civic unionist' banner, rather than the 'tribal' banner of the DUP.
This means that the old promise about 18 UCUNF candidates in May must be upheld, and it puts the DUP in an awkward position. If they stand against the UCUNF in, for example, Fermanagh and South Tyrone and South Belfast, then they virtually ensure that these seats remain in nationalist hands. But the requirement to stand in all 18 seats means that the UUP cannot stand down in order to help the DUP where it is vulnerable – North Antrim and North Belfast, for example. So it increases worries for the DUP.
In addition, of course, Empey's declaration of true love for the Tories kills the possibility of an anti-Sinn Féin unionist umbrella-party in the Assembly. So if Brown does call an Assembly election, the DUP will be fighting it on their own, with enemies on every side.
It will be interesting to see if Empey's somewhat late decision to opt for the Tories entices Alex Kane back, or whether the three Tory candidates who resigned will un-resign. Empey has come out of all this looking very bad – agreeing a pact with the Tories, but on terms that annoyed many Tories, then compounding that by twice entering into talks about voting pacts with the DUP. Real civic unionists will retain strong doubts about him.