New unionist party could be on the cards

A new unionist centre-ground party could be formed after Basil McCrea became the latest Ulster Unionist Party member to quit.

The Lagan Valley MLA resigned today after the party decided to run a unionist unity candidate with the DUP to fight the Mid-Ulster Westminster by-election on March 7.

John McCallister, who left the UUP last night, and former Ulster Unionist MLA David McClarty may join Mr McCrea in the new grouping.

Mr McCrea said: “I will say to the people of Northern Ireland, if you want a type of politics that is progressive, pluralist and that is mutual respect then you need to stop voting for sectarian head counts and start voting for people that represent all of the people of Northern Ireland.

“This is not sour grapes; this is not self interest, this is a principled stand to do what is right and it will be in the hands of the electorate and the electorate alone to decide if we have made the right call.”

Nigel Lutton - the son of a former RUC reservist shot dead by the IRA in 1979 - will be the unionist unity candidate in Mid-Ulster.

However, the strategy of closer co-operation with the DUP has divided the Ulster Unionist party.

Mr McCrea has been at odds with the UUP leadership and Mike Nesbitt for some time, having led a failed bid for the top position in the past.

He criticised the UUP over its handling of issues linked to the Union flag dispute and faced a disciplinary panel earlier this year, which cautioned him about recent media comments. He announced his resignation on the BBC’s Nolan Show.

Mr Lutton will run for the Westminster seat vacated by Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness last month.

In a statement issued after separate meetings of their Mid-Ulster constituency associations, the Democratic Unionists and UUP said Mr Lutton received unanimous support.

Mr McCallister said he believes in opposition at Stormont and confirmed the possible link up with other disaffected unionists.

“We have no idea if it is going to work. One thing Basil and I cannot be accused of is doing this for career advancement. It does put us in a difficult position but I would rather not be in politics and still have my integrity and the principles I believe in,” he said.

The South Down MLA added: “People have been questioning what the differences are between the DUP and the UUP - what are the issues that separate them. That is becoming increasingly difficult to answer. People see the UUP as DUP light. We should be presenting an alternative.”

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