UUP leader Doug Beattie explains why he is standing firm against unionist electoral pacts
UUP leader Doug Beattie has firmly defended ruling out a unionist pact to maximize the number of unionist MLAs in next year’s assembly election.
It comes after a recent opinion poll indicated Sinn Fein could overtake the DUP to become the largest party in Northern Ireland after the next Assembly election, due in May.
Becoming the largest party at Stormont would allow Sinn Fein to nominate a first minister.
Sir Jeffrey urged unionists to work together to help return “as many as possible pro-Union, anti-protocol MLAs”.
Mr Beattie responded, saying there “will be no pacts”.
Sir Jeffrey told the Belfast Telegraph: “Unionism cannot afford for the vote to be fragmented and Sinn Fein come through the middle to emerge as the largest party.”
The Press Association quoted him as saying: “I hope we can work with the UUP and TUV to ensure we maximise the number of Assembly seats unionism secures and return as many as possible pro-Union, anti-protocol MLAs.
“I respect both Doug and Jim (Allister)...I want to see us all working together to broaden unionist support in the election.”
Mr Beattie responded in a statement: “As a political party we are confident in our pro-Union message.” He said it was for others to ask if they wish to vote for an NI “focused on the future or a backward, protectionist, power-driven vision focused on self-preservation”.
“If it is the former, then the vote will be for the Ulster Unionist Party and a Northern Ireland confident with its place within the United Kingdom.”
Mr Beattie stoutly fended off criticism of his anti-pact stance on social media.
Replying to one unionist who spoke of “disappointment” with the policy, he replied: “Think it through Alan. Why are 2/3 non voters unionists, why are unionists & loyalists not voting for unionist parties but for other parties? We need a broader base for unionism as possible. I’ll deliver it.”
Asked if he was therefore intending to become “more like Alliance to attract that vote”, Doug replied: “No I mean be more like confident unionists with positive and inclusive views.”
Another unionist told him he was making “a big mistake” adding that the UUP, DUP and TUV “need to join together to defeat SF”.
But Doug pointed out that such unionist pacts had previously failed to deliver seats in north Belfast and Fermanagh South Tyrone.
He replied that Sinn Fein is “already the biggest party with lead speaking rights” and that unionism is “bleeding votes because of same old same old”. He added: “Don’t vote for it, vote better, vote smarter.”
TUV leader Jim Allister told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme that in the event of Sinn Fein becoming the largest party, the largest unionist party could prevent a first minister being appointed by refusing to nominate a deputy to the joint office.
“There can only ever be a Sinn Fein first minister – if they were the biggest party – if there was a deputy first minister, so the answer lies in unionism’s own hands,” he said.
“If unionists are seriously concerned about a Sinn Fein first minister then because it’s a shared office, they refuse to nominate a deputy and therefore there never can be a Sinn Fein first minister. He added: “If we were the biggest unionist party, there never would be a Sinn Fein first minister.”
But David Campbell, spokesman for the Loyalist Communities Council, which includes members of UVF, UDA and RHC terror groups, urged caution.
“I would urge each Unionist Leader not to kneejerk a reaction to the public calls for Unionist unity at the next election,” he said. “To immediately dismiss any pact or co-operation to maximise the number of unionists returned is immature and foolhardy. In my experience it is the desire of most non-aligned unionist voters.”
The debate comes after a LucidTalk poll in August found that only 13% of voters would back the DUP at present, compared to a steady 25% in favour of Sinn Fein.
The TUV led by Jim Allister saw big gains and is now the third most popular party with 14% support – behind Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists – the pollsters reported.
The move into second place for the UUP, up two percentage points to 16%, is the first time in 20 years the party has been ahead of the DUP.
The poll found the DUP dropped to 13% - leveling with both the SDLP and Alliance.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.
Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.newsletter.co.uk/subscriptions now to sign up.
Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.