ULSTER Unionist deputy leader John McCallister will stand for the UUP leadership — and has dramatically promised to immediately remove the party from the Stormont Executive if he becomes leader.
Announcing his candidature in an article for today’s News Letter, Mr McCallister says that his “first act as leader” would be to remove the party’s sole minister and enter into Opposition.
The South Down MLA’s vow comes hours after Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy confirmed that he would stand to succeed Tom Elliott.
“I have taken out nomination papers for the position of leader of the Ulster Unionist Party,” Mr Kennedy told the Press Association. “And I intend to submit those papers.”
The UUP veteran said he would elaborate on his reasons for seeking the party’s top job in the coming days.
Writing in today’s News Letter, Mr McCallister says that if he is elected leader he will put distance between the UUP and the DUP and says that he believe the UUP membership have nobler ambitions than to “quietly drift into the DUP’s orbit and accept a place at the executive table”.
The South Down farmer says that by forcing the issue of an opposition at Stormont he will end the “cosy club for politicians” and that he will stand for the “liberal, progressive” values of the Ulster Covenant.
And, in a reference to an unidentified “clique” within the party, Mr McCallister said: “As leader, I will be determined to ensure that the ambition and values of the party membership direct the party’s policy – not the views of a clique intent on sacrificing core Ulster Unionist values and returning us to the negative politics of the past.
“Ulster Unionism is at its best when it takes courageous decisions to drive Northern Ireland forward. That is why my first act as Leader would be to announce that the Ulster Unionist Party is forming the Opposition to the executive in Stormont.
“The voting public’s dissatisfaction with Stormont is self-evident.”
He added: “The UUP sitting around the executive table is bad for the party and bad for Northern Ireland. It results in the UUP simply giving cover to the DUP and Sinn Fein, and it short-changes voters and taxpayers by preventing real, robust scrutiny of the executive.
“Voters — and the growing number of those who don’t vote — know that without an opposition, Stormont becomes a cosy club for politicians.
“Opposition provides real accountability and gives voters real power to deliver change.”
Although Mr Kennedy — who as an Orangeman and long-standing UUP member is likely to be favourite to succeed Mr Elliott — has not yet given details of the platform on which he is to stand, it is expected that he will do so in coming days.
It is also now thought that UUP MLA Basil McCrea, who is in Canada, is unlikely to stand for the leadership.
The third individual thought to be considering a bid for the leadership, Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt, has not yet publicly made clear whether or not he will stand.