Mike Nesbitt’s sacking of his deputy leader has been described as “fairly brutal” by a party colleague.
The Ulster Unionist leader stripped South Down MLA John McCallister of his position after McCallister made a speech deemed critical of increased unionist unity.
Mr Nesbitt is understood to have viewed sections of his speech as an attack on his leadership of the party.
However, leading UUP MLA Basil McCrea said the former deputy leader had been a loyal party servant.
Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Mr McCrea said: “John is disappointed about the outcome, there may well have been a better way of dealing with things. That is the nature of politics. It can be fairly brutal at times and it was fairly brutal what happened to John.”
He said Mr McCallister did not feel he was speaking against party policy.
In his speech on Saturday — to a small number of people at a dinner for Young Unionists — Mr McCallister expressed his concerns that the Ulster Unionists were “sleep walking into unionist unity”.
He described such a move as depriving voters of choice and liable to entrench tribal politics.
Mr McCrea added: “The speech that John gave, the issues that he put out, it didn’t seem to me to be that far away from what Mr Nesbitt had been saying at the party conference beforehand.
“Nobody likes to be in a position where they’ve been fairly ignominiously fired, but John is a professional politician and I’m quite sure that he’ll take it on the chin and carry on.”
Mr McCallister has denied his speech was an attack on Mr Nesbitt’s leadership
Mr Nesbitt beat Mr McCallister by 536 votes to 129 when the pair contested the party leadership in March this year.