UUP leadership race - Beattie vs Butler?

Following the resignation of Ulster Unionist Party leader Steven Aiken, two names have emerged in the contest for the leadership. Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler and Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 9:42 am
UUP MLAs Doug Beattie and Robbie Butler had both been tipped to compete for leadership of the party.

Mr Beattie is currently the frontrunner in the race to succeed Mr Aiken, however Mr Butler has said he is being encouraged to run. At the time of printing, Mr Butler had yet to confirm wither he had officially entered the leadership race.

Former Army captain Doug Beattie paid tribute to Mr Aiken for his courage in taking the “not easy” decision to step down.

“I am grateful for his leadership and his friendship and I am glad that he will remain both an MLA and active member of the Ulster Unionist Party,” he added in a statement which also confirmed he will run to replace Mr Aiken.

The decorated military veteran said he recognises the party and country face real challenges now and in the future.

He added he wants to present “modern, progressive” pro-Union politics.

“It is not enough to sit back in defence of the Union, it is time to reach out to promote the Union and all its benefits,” he said. “In doing so we can make Northern Ireland a place where people want to live regardless of identity, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

“I want to build a Union of people where everyone feels comfortable being who they want to be with a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.

“I want to represent a pro-Union politics that offers a modern, progressive vision for the future of the UK.

“I want to build a Northern Ireland where everyone is able to enjoy a true peace and its benefits, not just the absence of violence.”

To date, Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler has not confirmed whether or not he will seek the leadership of the UUP, however it has been reported that he is giving serious consideration to standing for the party leadership.

Speaking to the Star’s sister paper the Belfast News Letter, Mr Butler said: “At this moment in time I am giving serious consideration to standing.

“A number of people internally and externally are encouraging me to go for it – including some surprising people outside the party.”

He is sure that the favourite to take the leadership, Doug Beattie, got similar encouragement, he said.

”However, there are also some people cautioning me and asking – do you really want to lead this party? It is a tough ticket.

“It will be a challenge for whoever gets it. Doug and I are both straight talkers and influential in the party. I would hope my empathetic and generous approach would be helpful but I am not so sure it would go well with loyalists.”

He says the NI Protocol, the subject of many ongoing street protests, “does not work for Northern Ireland and needs to change. Clearly it is not working. There needs to be discussions with Westminster and the EU.”

And he believes unionism needs to build relationships.

“The DUP probably burnt a lot of bridges and lost friends and I think unionism needs to work at gaining friends and influence at home and overseas.”

A man who wears his Christian faith on his sleeve, he said the party can hold together by making issues such as LGBT and abortion matters of conscience.

“We are a democratic party and on these and other issues I believe we can come to a consensus.”

He and Doug are long standing friends – and that is not going to change, he said.

“We have different views on social issues but we always take a problem solving approach. We have never got into a fight yet.”

This week Mr Butler suggested fighting his party colleague “bare bellies in the yard” for the leadership.

The humorous Twitter exchange came after Mr Beattie commented on media reports that the two were both vying for the position.

Amid lots of laughing emblems, Mr Beattie commented on speculation about their possible battle, saying: “Hey Butler ... you up for a mud wrestle?”

Mr Butler, who left the fire service to become an MLA, replied: “In the Fire Service we called these things ‘bare bellies in the yard’”.

This prompted Mr Beattie to respond: “I would have an unfair advantage” possibly because he may be the heavier of the two men.