McCallister quits UUP over unity candidate

Published Thursday, 14 February 2013
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South Down MLA John McCallister has resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party over the decision to field a unionist unity candidate in the Mid Ulster by-election.

McCallister quits UUP over unity candidate
John McCallister said he fundamentally disagrees with Unionist unity. (© Presseye)

The former deputy leader of the party's Assembly group said he "fundamentally disagrees" with the principle of Unionist unity.

He said the cooperation with the DUP was leading local politics "back into the sectarian trenches".

In an open letter to the party leader published on Thursday night, Mr McCallister accused Mike Nesbitt of failing to lead unionism into an "alternative to the politics of sectarian headcounts".

"Your determination to act in concert with the DUP - over parades, flags and (Unionist) Forum - has significantly contributed to forcing Northern Ireland politics back into the sectarian trenches," he said.

"It is therefore with immediate effect and deep regret that I resign the whip of the Ulster Unionist Party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and my party membership."

Earlier Mr Nesbitt and DUP leader Peter Robinson announced that joint candidate Nigel Lutton would contest the Mid Ulster parliamentary by-election next month.

Mr McCallister said: "It's nothing personal to Nigel, I know Nigel. It is about principle. I am opposed to unionist unity and I do not want to be part of that."

Rather than building a confident and generous pro-Union centre ground, you have opted instead to become Peter Robinson's junior partner.

John McCallister

Mr McCallister said he first voted for the UUP more than 20 years ago because of its commitment to "normalising our politics".

He lost to Mr Nesbitt in the leadership contest at the UUP annual general meeting in March last year.

He was later sacked from his deputy leader role at Stormont after warning that the UUP was "sleepwalking into unionist unity".

"The policies have increasingly become alienated from the values which should guide and shape an Ulster Unionist leader," he said on Thursday night.

He also criticised Mr Nesbitt's decision to engage in the Unionist Forum which was set up in December as a response to loyalist disorder following the flag dispute.

The MLA said the party leader's "failure to articulate and communicate a distinctive UUP stance [...] has unfortunately inflicted grave damage on the party".

I find it a matter of great personal sadness that the Party which I have supported since 1992 is now acting in a manner which deepens and intensifies the divisions in our society.

John McCallister

A Unionist unity candidate stood in the Fermanagh South Tyrone constituency during the 2010 election, when Rodney Connor ran against Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew, who retained the seat.

Mr McCallister said: "The decision to repeat a failed electoral strategy [...] demonstrates the extent to which you have decided to abandon any pretence that your leadership can make the UUP a home for pluralist and progressive pro-Union politics."

He described Unionist unity as "an exercise in the politics of tribalism".

The MLA said he will sit as an Independent at Stormont as he continues to represent the South Down constituency.

The Ulster Unionist Party had 16 members voted into the Northern Ireland Assembly in the 2011 election, but in just under two years the party has lost three MLAs.

Strangford representative David McNarry joined UKIP after he was suspended from the UUP in May, while Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea lost the party whip in December after he publicly criticised Mr Nesbitt's handling of the flag dispute.

It is thought Mr McCrea, who received a formal warning last week, may also step down.

"I would be very surprised if Basil did not resign from the UUP very, very quickly," Mr McCallister said on BBC's The View on Thursday evening.

Last year former MP Ken Maginnis also quit the party following comments he made about gay marriage.

© UTV News
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26 Comments
H.Campbell in UK wrote (608 days ago):
Now that Basil and John have left their Unionist Party why don't they just form a party called Democrat. Not Lib Dem, Social Dem, unionist or National Dem. Both of these guys appear to have a broad based appeal and if anyone could reach across the sectarian divide, I believe these guys could. With luck we would have a party that is neither Unionist nor Nationalist and one that would allow people from the different communities to have a greater input into how the country is run. A party that would try harder to eliminate child poverty,offer better choices in education, employment, NHS etc;etc;etc; and one that rewards workers yet has compassion for people who are unable to work. For too long N.Ireland has laboured under DUP/Sinn Fein and seems to be going round in circles.Both of the major parties are restricted by their pasts and have nothing really to offer the electorate apart from the same old same party dogma. In politics, I believe that all parties become stale and blasé and are more focussed on their expenses etc; than they are on other peoples problems. Time to try something different and to give Politics and Politicians a kick up the backside.
well done in magherafelt wrote (617 days ago):
well done peter and mike, you are now listening to your electorate, have to laugh at some of the posts on here, obviously republicans pretending to be middle of the road protestants, lol
Realist in England wrote (617 days ago):
Ian - can't you see how your comment supports dead-end sectarianism? Think about it - you could have Hitler or Thatcher on one side and Stalin or Mao on the other. If they were the only people on the ballot to support the union, would you vote for whichever of them happened to be standing? The reality is that Ireland (the whole country) has been ruled over the past hundred years by parties who would seldom gain power elsewhere. The loyalists on the Shankill share the same issues as republicans on the Falls or people who couldn't care less about the national question (other than in the pub at Easter) down in Tallaght. Social deprivation is widespread throughout the country and you would sooner elect middle class parties who look after their own sooner than a left wing party like PSF because they proverbially wave a flag and beat a drum every so often on TV. That is illogical. More importantly for you, it is exceedingly counterproductive as it will ultimately hit you in your pocket just as it hit your parents and grandparents in theirs. Whether you have unionist unity or not and whether unionists win a given seat or not is completely irrelevant in all respects other than the important ones - the underlying demographics remain the same and nationalists are further reinforced in their desire to reunite with the rest of the country. How could a genuine rational unionist ever see that as a victory? The Free State isn't much better in respect to real choice being offered to/accepted by the people. The best future for us all is a united future in which we agree on the governance of a new country in which parties are defined by standard left/right policies as opposed to crazy stuff like 'I hate the Provos more than the other unionist because my flag is bigger and I wave it in the faces of more nationalists'. Well, I probably hate the Provos more than both of them and have more in common with you than I do with either of them. If you could only peer beyond the confines of your mental prison, you would see how obviously correct I am on that.
Patrick in Dorset wrote (617 days ago):
"Ian in Belfast wrote: Of course there should unionist unity, divide and conquer thats what sinn fein want." If Sinn Fein really are doing as Ian says I wonder where they learnt their skill.
Let down in Belfast wrote (617 days ago):
Fair play to john and basil tryung to leave sectarian headcounts behind. Mike Nesbitt has ket a lot if people down with this decision
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