Doug Beattie: ‘Disaffected DUP councillors and members are having conversations with UUP’
A number of disaffected DUP councillors and members are “having conversations” with the UUP, Doug Beattie has said.
But the new UUP leader said the councillors’ visions for Northern Ireland must match his party’s before they would be able to join.
Mr Beattie was speaking the morning after a stormy meeting of the DUP in Belfast, where Edwin Poots was ratified as the new leader, taking over from Arlene Foster.
Mrs Foster and a number of other high-profile members left the meeting before Mr Poots made his speech, and a long-term member announced his resignation from the party in protest at how she had been treated.
Mrs Foster announced her resignation several weeks ago after being informed of a letter of no confidence in her leadership.
Mr Beattie said the door of his party was “open” to any DUP members who wanted to join.
“I would say to all of them, you are in a political party, they have an awful lot to offer as politicians wherever they decide to call home, if that is staying within the DUP or whether they look to go elsewhere,” he said.
“Our door is always open to people who want to come to the Ulster Unionist Party, but if they want to do so they come understanding the Ulster Unionist Party values and I will talk to them and anyone who wants to come to make sure they understand that before I offer them the ability to join.
“If we bring anyone in, and we are a welcoming party, it must be going in our direction, seeing Northern Ireland through our eyes.”
Mr Beattie continued: “We have had conversations with a few individuals. No MLAs have approached me from the DUP; we may have some from local government, and other members and activists who may be talking to us now. That is seeing what they think and where they want to go and what is their vision for Northern Ireland.
“If it matches ours, if we have somewhere where they can fit into our party and structures and promote what is good for Northern Ireland then we can offer them a place in the Ulster Unionist Party.”
When asked to clarify that some DUP councillors were having conversations with him about joining the UUP, Mr Beattie said: “Oh yes, without a doubt there is a few. Not hundreds, but there is a number. We will speak to them and they will know what we stand for.”
Mr Poots had suggested a “united unionist coalition” ahead of the next Assembly elections, due to take place next May.
Responding, Mr Beattie ruled out an electoral pact with other unionist parties at the next Assembly elections.
The UUP leader said: “I am quite clear that this next election is a single transferable vote, you don’t need pacts.
“What we all need to do as unionist parties is put forward candidates who have a vision for Northern Ireland which is progressive and inclusive and welcoming.
“If you do that people will vote for you.”
Mr Beattie spoke to media at The Big Fish sculpture in Belfast city centre between meetings with business leaders, accompanied by his party’s economy spokesperson Mike Nesbitt.
He said he was ratified as the UUP leader by hundreds of party members in a virtual meeting.
“I’m really pleased to announce I got a unanimous endorsement that I would be the Ulster Unionist Party leader, and I’m very proud of that,” he said.
“We have an awful lot of work to do, and that’s what I’m doing here today, because we need to start straight away, there is no point navel-gazing, it’s no point in saying my priority is to fix the party because it’s not, I will do that in the margins.
“My priority is to fix Northern Ireland, to address issues such as health, such as poverty, well-being, education. These are all the important things that affect people.”