Come back as ‘caretaker leader’, ex-UUP chairman urges Tom Elliott

Tom Elliott has been urged by David Campbell to return to the helm of the UUP

Tom Elliott has been urged by David Campbell to return to the helm of the UUP

A former chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party has urged Tom Elliott to come back as leader, even if on a temporary basis – but Mr Elliott has ruled out such a move.

David Campbell, who was chairman from 2005 to 2012, first floated the idea of Mr Elliott returning as leader two weeks ago and Mr Elliott gave no indication that he intended to take such a course.

However, in a statement to the News Letter, Mr Campbell said that after he had made that suggestion on BBC politics programme The View – alongside a call for “structured unionist cooperation” – he had been “inundated by messages of support from grassroots unionists across Northern Ireland”.

The former aide to David Trimble went on: “There is also serious concern from members that, notwithstanding their respect for many of our elected representatives, there is no one with the requisite experience and calibre to lead the party at this difficult time – no one, that is, except the party’s MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and former leader Tom Elliott.”

Mr Campbell presented Mr Elliott as someone who was likely to be more open to unionist unity measures which bring the UUP and DUP closer because he himself is a beneficiary of such unity in Fermanagh-South Tyrone.

Mr Campbell said: “We are entering an uncertain period with the strong possibility of a further Assembly election and speculation over a possible snap Westminster election.

“Both of these possibilities require leadership that understands and is prepared to actively consider cooperative measures with other unionist parties to maximise unionist turnout and representation. Tom, as a beneficiary of such constructive cooperation, is uniquely placed to guide the party.

“I would also venture to add that unionism collectively could benefit from leaders from the unionist heartland of Fermanagh. Both Tom Elliott and Arlene Foster could articulate Northern Ireland’s case for Brexit with the experience they both have in living and working in a border county. I reiterate my call for Tom to consider returning as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and that the Ulster Unionist Council would unanimously confirm him at the forthcoming Annual General Meeting.”

However, when asked if he would consider returning to the leadership, Mr Elliott said: “No.” He told the News Letter that “a number of people have approached me” about returning to the leadership but that he had always said “I’ve been there and done that”.

He added: “It would be more difficult to go back in the second time – and unfair as well. Putting someone back in – almost recycling someone [who had been leader] is probably not the best move.”