Peter Robinson: Doug Beattie must say to where he wants Ulster Unionist voters to transfer after giving the UUP their first preference

I sometimes wonder who advises Doug Beattie.

By Peter Robinson
Friday, 1st October 2021, 9:21 am
Updated Friday, 1st October 2021, 9:48 am
Peter Robinson is a former DUP leader and first minister of Northern Ireland, who writes a column every other Friday
Peter Robinson is a former DUP leader and first minister of Northern Ireland, who writes a column every other Friday

Some say he just doesn’t take advice.

Others claim he is being advised by Mike Nesbitt.

Who knows?

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Doug Beattie, right, at Stormont this week with Jeffrey Donaldson, Billy Hutchinson and Jim Allister, in a joint stance against the protocol

He seems to be all over the place so either assertion could be true.

One day he firmly rebuffs a proposal from Sir Jeffrey to work together to maximise the number of pro-Union anti-protocol MLAs as possible while preventing Sinn Fein emerging as the largest party and the next, he signs a declaration, facilitated by the Orange Order, and co-signed by Sir Jeffrey, Jim Allister and Billy Hutchinson to oppose the EU Protocol because of its impact on Northern Ireland.

I thought the declaration was useful and demonstrated unionist opposition to the undemocratic, constitution-breaking, economy destroying protocol, though it did have the appearance of being the lowest common denominator that the four unionist leaders could agree.

Its greatest failing was the absence of an agreed plan to do anything to oppose the protocol – other than stating opposition to the protocol.

Hence Mr Beattie can waffle and lobby but is not pledged to do anything beyond that to stop the protocol’s “mechanisms and structures” which he says are inflicting grave damage.

If not a “pact”, what then?

What will he advise UUP voters to do with their preferences after voting for his candidates?

It has for some time appeared that on a wide range of issues Mr Beattie feels more comfortable dressing up in something closer to the Alliance Party’s clothes and if he accepts advice from Mike (“a vote for the UUP is a vote for the SDLP”) Nesbitt then he will not feel uncomfortable with a green tinge on his attire as well.

This is something that is alarming many in his party who are holding their collective breath while he tries to out-liberal the Alliance Party. But in facing the “What then” question, he must know that he could not credibly last eight months without being repeatedly confronted with questions about whether he would prefer UUP transfers to go to anti-Protocol unionists or the Protocol-supporting Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Fein.

So, better to get it out of the way now.

Mr Beattie might ward off the more lightweight interviewers with answer avoidance and deflection by stating he is asking people to vote for his party, and they should vote according to their own preference thereafter, but the more he is pushed by the serious interviewers and the more he sidesteps answering the question directly, the less he will look like a leader with conviction and consequently the less people will believe in him.

This is especially true during an election that is likely to be about the protocol, especially if it is called because the government has not acted to fulfil the substance of its own Command Paper which confidently states that the case for triggering Article 16 already exists on the basis that the protocol is causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade”.

So, here is an opportunity to get off the fence Doug, will you advise UUP voters to give their further transfers to your declaration co-signatories or the protocol defenders?

What answer will we get from the mighty Doug?

Will it be a straight-forward response, a thunderous silence, a deployment of chaff, or just jabber and blether?

Let us hope it will be the only possible consistent and logical response that someone who is “unalterably opposed” to the protocol could give.

For my own part I will vote DUP and then for all other candidates who oppose the Northern Ireland Protocol and want to fully respect our position as an integral part of the United Kingdom, and I advise everyone else to do the same.

You see, that wasn’t hard to do, was it Doug?

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