Ex-DUP MLA Brenda Hale will stay in party as ‘a critical friend’ after slamming removal of Arlene Foster

Former DUP MLA Brenda Hale has ruled out leaving the party – despite openly condemning the manner in which outgoing leader Arlene Foster was ousted.

Former DUP Lagan Valley MLA Brenda Hale praised – and was praised by – new UUP leader Doug Beattie

Despite backing Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in the leadership contest, which he lost to Edwin Poots 17 votes to 19, she said the party needs “critical friends” at a time of so many challenges.

Mrs Hale’s Army officer husband Mark was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. She became a DUP MLA in 2011 but lost her seat in 2017.

Last week she condemned what she saw as the political “assassination” of Mrs Foster by party colleagues.

Speaking about the news that Doug Beattie is to lead the UUP, she paid tribute to the Upper Bann MLA saying he will be a “very good leader for the UUP” adding that there is “now an alternative for unionist voters, so Edwin and the party officers need to make sure that we put someone in place who can speak to all of the unionist electorate and not just to one side of the party”.

This prompted new UUP leader Mr Beattie to tweet: “I miss Brenda Hale’s empathetic type of politics, more so I think Lagan Valley misses it.”

Asked if she was sticking with her party, after seeming so critical of it, Mrs Hale firmly ruled out leaving.

“I think going forward the DUP need many critical friends and to leave now, in the midst of these challenges would be, I feel, a mistake,” she told the News Letter. “It needs all the friends it can get inside and out.”

Responding to Mr Beattie’s tweet, she said: “It was incredibly kind of Doug to be so thoughtful – we are both coming from an Army background and we have seen all sides of life which makes us more willing to be patient and see the other person’s point of view.”

She has not been considering standing for election again.

“The next elections are in 2022 and I hope the DUP are going to be in a place by then where I can actively canvass on behalf of their candidates. But that remains to be seen.

“I don’t think at this point Mr Poots would be selecting me.”

She added: “A huge part of the party and party associations right down to grassroots was supporting Jeffrey as a statesman. So had he been elected as leader I think we would have been having completely different conversations about my future – and Northern Ireland’s.”

She feels much more comfortable talking without the constraints of the party whip, but adds that political solo runs are not good for parties.

The former MLA is still “very passionate” about how NI moves forward. 

“We need visionary leadership, a proper strategy and a strong united DUP because unionism is being eroded. There are deep divisions within the party and Edwin needs to be very mindful not to ostracise those who did not vote for him.”

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