Another Ulster Unionist politician has come out to back a Leave vote in the EU referendum, and has warned that leader Mike Nesbitt “has clearly got the mood of the party wrong”.
After the weekend letter by current and former UUP grandees urging a Leave vote, and four UUP councillors speaking in Tuesday’s News Letter in favour of Leave, now Belfast councillor Chris McGimpsey has done likewise.
Mr McGimpsey – who was on the executive committee of the European movement, which encourages understanding and trade between European nations – said that he speaks French, lived in Belgium and has a French daughter-in-law, but that as a left-wing unionist he was opposed to what the European Union had become.
Mr McGimpsey – who was a UUP candidate in last month’s Assembly election – said he was happy to be described as a “Brexiteer”.
By contrast, his brother, former UUP health minister Michael McGimpsey, is on the board of an official pro-EU campaign in Northern Ireland.
The UUP has adopted a Remain position, but allows its members to support either side.
Mr McGimpsey told the News Letter: “The party leader has clearly got the mood of the party wrong and the mood of voters wrong.
“That is his view and I am content that he holds that view and I am content that the party is broad enough that people can hold different views on such big issues.”
Mr McGimpsey said that it was clear to him when canvassing in east Belfast ahead of last month’s Assembly election that the party was on the wrong side of the unionist electorate on the issue.
He said that the EU referendum was the most commonly raised issue, with 17 out of 20 people supporting a vote to leave the EU.
He said there was “a danger of the Ulster Unionist Party being seen to be out of step with our voters and members on this issue”.
Mr Nesbitt has repeatedly warned about what he says is a threat to the Union if the UK votes to quit the EU, with the potential for Scottish and Irish nationalism to press for referendums on independence.
But Mr McGimpsey dismissed that view: “I don’t believe that there is a threat to the Union if we vote to leave.
“I think that an independent country will come closer together and unite still further.
“We have an opportunity to restitch the Union and have Scotland in it.”
Mr McGimpsey also said that it “beggars belief” that a vote to leave would see an end to free movement between the UK and Ireland, given the Common Travel Area has “survived the Irish Civil War, the Second World War and 40 years of the Troubles”.