Harold McKee indicated that there are many people in unionist heartlands who are turned-off by Mr Beattie’s liberal style – particularly when it comes to him associating with gender campaigners and taking a pro-choice stance on abortion.
Councillor McKee currently serves on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
But he has also sought, and won, higher office.
In 2015 he was the top-ranked unionist in the South Down Westminster election (just ahead of Jim Wells), but did not secure a seat.
In the 2016 Assembly election, he just scraped into a seat with 8.5% of the first-preference votes.
A mere year later, he fought for the seat again, but lost out despite getting 8.4% of first-preference votes.
He was first elected to Newry and Mourne council in 2011 with 585 votes, and has held his seat ever since – growing his vote to 1,352 votes in 2014, and 1,455 in 2019.
He sent his resignation to Mr Beattie on Thursday night.
Explaining his reasons, he said: “Whilst I reluctantly separate from my UUP councillor colleagues and members, I feel that I must take a stand.”
He said Mr Beattie’s dictum that “you have to leave religion at the door when you’re trying to do politics” sits ill with him.
“I cannot leave my Christianity ‘at the door,’” he told the News Letter. “In fact, I feel that my Christianity increases the care I have for others and my drive to ensure that I do all I can to make day-to-day lives better for all my constituents.
“[Mr Beattie] has said that those with conservative values have nothing to fear from his leadership.
“But it is becoming very difficult to endorse a leader who is constantly to the fore promoting liberal issues.
“Local people know my stance but are at a loss to understand how I can support what the party is promoting.”
Specifically he objects to “numerous new UUP members/candidates who it appears, without exception, endorse same-sex marriage and abortion”.
The party’s position on both matters has typically been to allow individual members to vote with their consciences.
As to his current position, councillor McKee said he intends “at this point in time” to continue to serve as an independent councillor.
The UUP said: “We are sorry councillor Harold McKee has decided his political future no longer lies with the Ulster Unionist Party.
“We’d like to thank Harold for his service and wish him well for the future.
“The party will continue to hold out the hand of friendship as Harold takes a new path.”
‘A FAR CRY FROM CARSON AND CRAIG’:
Councillor McKee’s resignation message continued as follows:
“It seems conservative values are being squeezed out.
“This all seems a far cry from the UUP roots, which the leader described as being ‘the party of Carson and Craig’...
“Edward Carson came from a humble, working family. He was read to from the Bible by his mother as he sat upon her knee.
“In his young adult life Edward Carson, who became a follower of Christ, evangelised on the street, proclaiming God’s Word.”
Mr Beattie has condemned those who would deny others their essential rights, said councillor McKee.
But he added: “Well, I say Mr Beattie, what rights do the unborn babies have – those who have already been aborted, and those you support being aborted?
“Are you content that all these babies are not allowed to grow up and ever become soldiers or political leaders?
“The UUP health minister Mr Robin Swan is well known for trying to save lives during the coronavirus pandemic, yet here in Northern Ireland we have 2,000 unborn
babies put to death because the Government says it’s ok to do so, and that appears to be alright with the UUP leader.
“The Word of God teaches in Exodus 20:13 [KJV], the Fifth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
“And this includes unborn babies aborted in the mother’s womb.
‘LEFT-LIBERALISM THE ONLY VIEWPOINT’:
When it comes to LGBTQQIA+ advocacy, councillor McKee said:
“In relation to same-sex marriage, which Mr Beattie is keen to endorse, I cannot go against the infallible word of God, that marriage is between one man and one woman.
“I am saddened to observe that these views seem to be of little value in the UUP of today, but rather a stance of celebrating left-of-centre liberalism seems to be the only acceptable viewpoint.”
He made reference to a motion driven by the party leadership on April 22, which – unsually – the party insisted all MLAs had to endorse.
However, as the News Letter exclusively reported at the time, East Antrim party stalwart Roy Beggs (who leans towards the traditional wing of the party) refused to conform.
He got around the problem by having himself designated as Assembly Speaker shortly before the vote took place, meaning he was relieved of having to cast a vote or abstain (since speakers do not get involved in votes).
Councillor McKee said: “I strongly feel that this should have been a conscience vote, or at the very least a strong acknowledgement as part of the motion that this ban will not impact on the prayerful counselling and support offered by many of our churches.
“The term ‘conversion therapy’ is too broad and whilst I acknowledge the party has said there is more work to be done before legislation is passed there is a real concern about the potential for damage to genuine, church-based counselling and support.”
He also thanked the following people by name:
Fellow councillor and group leader David Taylor, “who has been long standing friend and one whom I hold in the highest esteem”;
Councillors Alan Lewis and Robert Burgess;
And Jill Macauley, his election agent at the time of his 2016 Assembly election.
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