UKIP’s deputy leader used an address to the TUV conference on Saturday to make a direct appeal for the party to stand aside in the next European election in favour of UKIP.
Paul Nuttall, who travelled to Cookstown just a day after celebrating UKIP’s Corby by-election result where the party beat the Liberal Democrats into third place, appealed for the two parties not to split the anti-Europe and anti-Executive vote in the 2014 poll.
Last week the TUV leader Jim Allister told this newspaper that it was a “very big challenge” to fight a European election but said that the party was “not making any commitments either way at this moment in time”.
On Saturday Mr Nuttall was joined at the TUV event by UKIP’s first MLA, David McNarry, and Nigel Farage’s deputy told the party: “UKIP is now committed to standing in European elections here; we’ve now got our first MLA here in David McNarry and what I hope – and what I envisage – is that us as parties can talk; that we can come together and come to some agreement.
“What I don’t want to see happen here is that two parties that share the same ideals on the European Union, who want to get out, cancel each other out by taking votes off each other and let in the parties that want more integration, want more EU through the back door because that wouldn’t be to the benefit of anybody here in this Province.”
There was no applause or visible reaction to the suggestion.
Mr Nuttall, an MEP for the North West England constituency, said that Mr Allister, who worked closely with UKIP while an MEP, was someone whom the party “admires greatly”.
And he presented a confident Eurosceptic case, telling members that opposition to the EU was rising “not just on our own shores, but right across Europe” with Europe split; not on east-west lines as during the cold war, but on north-south lines, as Greece’s financial position worsens.
The UKIP deputy leader denounced the EU, describing it as “a European Union that hates democracy, it hates the will of the people” and urged stronger links with countries such as India, Australia and Canada, adding: “I say that our future lies with our commonwealth.”
Mr Nuttall said he expected a vote on leaving the EU’s “corrupt club” to be the highest in Ulster, a place which “I consider to be the most Eurosceptic part of our country”.
At most political conferences the leader’s speech is carefully-worded and pored over in advance. However, on Saturday the TUV press officer could only give members of the press a few lines from Mr Allister’s speech as he prefers to speak with only a few notes and most of his 40-minute address was unscripted.
In his speech, Mr Allister noted that the conference was in murdered prison officer David Black’s home town of Cookstown and said: “I salute the Black family for having the strength and courage to cut through the hypocrisy and pretence by telling McGuinness and Sinn Fein to stay away from the funeral.
“There is a message there for those who day and daily clutch Sinn Fein to their bosom in government in Stormont.”
He added: “That hideous crime was condemned in many quarters but in some of those quarters the condemnation, such as it was, was hypocritical, false and empty because it came from people who themselves had been perpetrators of crimes of that nature.”
The TUV leader said that there was no moral difference between Provisional IRA murders and dissident republican murders.
He said: “Mr Robinson told us that the killers of David Black were odious, hate-filled deviants. But where today are the odious hate filled deviants that murdered the previous 29 prison officers? And who put them there? That is one of the sobering realities. Make no mistake about it. The Belfast Agreement was an attempted buy-off of terrorism; the product and the price was terrorists in government.”
He accused Sinn Fein of hypocrisy in its condemnation of dissident republican murders: “Listen to them carefully ... it’s not unqualified condemnation whatsoever. It’s a condemnation because in the words of one of them ‘there is no strategy to go along with it’. So in other words if you’ve got a strategy into which murder fits it’s OK to murder. That’s still, alas, the viewpoint and outlook of some who are in our government.”
And, in a pointed personal criticism of the First Minister, Mr Allister said: “It is not just enough to condemn the murder, to visit the widow and then take yourself off with Martin McGuinness to another GAA match.”
Mr Allister also rounded on the Stormont coalition, denouncing the record of “this miserable Executive” as “dismal failure, woeful squander and hopeless disconnect” from the needs of those who elect them: “Bloated with 108 MLAs when half would be enough, 12 departments when six would do, waste beyond belief on 161 – yes, 161 – spin doctors, £5 million on hospitality, £400,000 on photographers ...”
Someone interrupted to shout “Arlene” in reference to DUP Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster and Mr Allister said: “Yes, the minister for photo opportunities, Arlene. So when you open your newspaper and see those smiling faces, you have the privilege, ladies and gentlemen, of paying for it.”
He denounced the “£100 million squandered on useless north-south bodies and £20 million on a shrine at the Maze” while “unemployment spirals upwards and all that our minister for photo opportunities can tell us is that it is not as bad as in the Republic, to which nonetheless ... the Executive seeks to tie us ever closer, be it in energy, trade or tourism”.
Dismissing Sinn Fein chairman Declan Kearney’s calls for unionist engagement with Sinn Fein in a process of reconciliation, Mr Allister said: “I didn’t murder anyone, nor did anyone in this room” and added that the 1998 Agreement which many believed to be “a settlement” was still to Sinn Fein “a process” without end.
He said that all it took for DUP to abandon ‘never, never, never’ was “a stroking of the ego and the offering of power”.
And, turning to the absence of an Opposition at Stormont, Mr Allister said that it was “not just absurd but fundamentally undemocratic”.
He said that the UUP and SDLP “are only doormats in this Executive to the DUP-Sinn Fein ministers” and added of the UUP minister Danny Kennedy: “We have an Ulster Unionist roads minister who is implementing a policy on the A5 that he doesn’t believe in. But he’s doing it to keep his job because Marty and Peter tell him that it must be done.”
Referring to SDLP minister Alex Attwood, he said: “We have an SDLP minister in charge of local government who’s going to try to reduce the councils to 11 and he says it should be 15. But he’s going to do it. Because it’s the price of keeping his job. Does he think that’s going to buy him any respect on the streets of west Belfast?
“Why would you vote SDLP; why vote Ulster Unionist when you can vote for the mother parties whose policies they are implementing?”
And, in an intriguing reference to his own future, Mr Allister said of the day when voluntary coalition and Opposition are in place: “When we get that, ladies and gentlemen, my work will be done, and the sooner the better in that regard.”