Basil McCrea must stand aside as leader until an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct is completed, NI21 deputy leader John McCallister has said.
Mr McCallister issued a statement tonight after the woman who is making allegations against Mr McCrea came forward to speak publicly in front of a camera.
Former party worker Ashleigh Murray, 23, said in a BBC Newsline interview that she had not gone to the police about the allegations because of her difficult background, which she believed meant that she would not have been believed.
Mr McCrea has strenuously denied that the allegations and a letter from his solicitor, sent to the News Letter on Thursday, threatened to sue for libel if Ms Murray’s allegations are made public.
But in a statement tonight, Mr McCallister said that his former personal friend should stand aside until an investigation into the issue had concluded.
“In light of the fact that a young woman has now publicly come forward regarding the allegations against Basil McCrea, I am now compelled to ask him to immediately step aside from the leadership of NI21 for the duration of the investigation,” the South Down MLA said.
“It would be impossible for the leader of any political party to remain in post when confronted with an investigation into such serious allegations.
“For the sake of NI21 and, indeed, for his own sake, he must now step aside for the duration of the investigation.
“For NI21 staff and former staff, NI21 members and the general public to have confidence in a fair and transparent process and in any response to the investigation, Basil McCrea cannot remain in post as leader while the investigation is underway.
“I view these allegations with the utmost seriousness and will do all in my power to ensure that investigating bodies have all the information and access they require to complete their work.”
The former Ulster Unionist MLA added: “I would urge Basil McCrea to give public undertakings to fully co-operate with the independent investigation currently underway.
“I want to assure NI21 staff and former staff that I will do all that I can to ensure that they have access to appropriate counselling and support services during and after this investigation.”