TWO of the area’s MLAs have resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party within hours of each other in protest at the selection of a single Unionist candidate for the Mid-Ulster by-election.
South John representative John McCallister resigned on TV last night (Thursday) on BBC Northern Ireland’s politics programme The View, following the official announcement of the joint Unionist Mid Ulster candidate.
And this morning his Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea announced on the Nolan Show that he too was leaving the party for the same reason.
In a letter to Mr Nesbitt, Mr McCallister said he had first voted for the UUP in 1992, because of the party’s values and had “no interest in supporting other narrow expressions of unionism, committed as they were to confrontation and triumphalism”.
“Your failure to articulate and communicate a distinctive UUP stance - based on Ulster Unionism’s core values - on last year’s parades controversies, on the Covenant centenary, on the Union flag debate, on the misguided Unionist Forum and on the potential of electoral pacts with the DUP has unfortunately inflicted grave damage on the Party,” he wrote.
“Under your leadership a profound disconnection has occurred between UUP policy and Ulster Unionist values. “The policies have increasingly become alienated from the values which should guide and shape an Ulster Unionist leader.
“Above all, your determination to act in concert with the DUP - over parades, flags and Forum - has significantly contributed to forcing Northern Ireland politics back into the sectarian trenches.
“At a time of division and uncertainty in our society, Northern Ireland needed the UUP to set out with courage a pro-Union alternative to the politics of sectarian headcounts.
“It gives me no pleasure to say that, under your leadership, the UUP has utterly failed to do so. Rather than building a confident and generous pro-Union centre ground, you have opted instead to become Peter Robinson’s junior partner.”
Mr McCrea said forming a new party with John McCallister is “the top option” at the minute.
In a direct attack on his former party leader Mr McCrea said: “I have no confidence in what Mike Nesbitt says.”
He added that the “There is no future for me in the UUP”, and accused the UUP of “getting into bed with the DUP”.
Nigel Lutton, a former Victims campaigner who worked in Rathfriland, has been selected to run in Mid-Ulster with the backing of both the DUP and UUP. Victims campaigner Willie Frazer has said that he will not run against Mr Lutton. Ulster Protestant Forum leader Jamie Bryson also said he will not be running in the by-election.