McCrea quitting UUP over unity candidate

LAGAN Valley MLA Basil McCrea, who last week announced his decision to quit the UUP, says his Dromore office will remain open and he will go on representing local people as best he can.

“The office will remain open; staff will remain employed and the only thing that will change is the signage above the door,” he said.

Mr. McCrea signalled his intention to part company with the UUP after the DUP and Ulster Unionists agreed to field a unity candidate in the upcoming Mid-Ulster by-election.

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During an interview on the BBC’s Nolan Show on Friday, Mr. McCrea, who has in the past won praise from some quarters for his work on the ground in Dromore, confirmed his intention to resign from the party.

His decision came hot on the heels of the resignation - during an appearance the previous night on BBC NI’s politics programme ‘The View’ - of South Down MLA and former UUP deputy leader John McCallister, this following the official announcement that one-time Rathfriland-based victims campaigner Nigel Lutton, son of a murdered RUC Reservist, would contest the Mid-Ulster by-election as a Unionist unity candidate.

Already at odds with his party over his stance on the Union Flag row, Mr. McCrea told Stephen Nolan there was clearly no place in the UUP for individuals such as himself and Mr. McCallister - both opposed to Unionist unity and ‘narrow expressions of Unionism’ - and he had no confidence, he said, in the assurances of party leader Mike Nesbitt that the Mid-Ulster decision was in response to specific circumstances and in no way indicative of any move towards Unionist merger.

The Lagan Valley MLA applauded what he called Mr. McCallister’s principled decision and echoed the sentiments expressed by the South Down Assemblyman in an open letter to Mr. Nesbitt, in which he wrote that 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”.

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He went on, “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.

“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.

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“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, meanwhile, said too that forming a new party with John McCallister was “the top option” at the minute.