Wednesday 22 November 2017

UUP assembly team deputy John McAllister sacked

David Young

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt has sacked the deputy leader of his Assembly team after he claimed the party was "sleepwalking" into unionist unity with the DUP.

John McCallister has been removed from the post in the wake of comments he made in a weekend speech.

It is understood Mr Nesbitt viewed the remarks by the South Down MLA as a criticism of his leadership.

Mr McCallister, who is seen as a liberal voice within the party, lost out to Mr Nesbitt in a two-way contest to succeed Tom Elliott as party leader earlier this year.

The 40-year-old father of two made the contentious comments in a speech to a group of Young Unionists on Saturday night at an event to mark the centenary of the signing of the pro-Union Ulster Covenant.

He criticised the number of joint initiatives and press opportunities the UUP and DUP had been conducting of late.

Many of those were related to the build-up to the Covenant commemorations.

Mr McCallister said it had created the impression that the "unionist unity train had left the station".

He said that "reasonable observers are concluding that the UUP is sleepwalking into unionist unity".

In recent speeches, Strangford MLA Mr Nesbitt has stressed that a formal link up with the Democratic Unionists is not on the cards.

An Ulster Unionist spokesman confirmed that Mr McCallister was no longer deputy leader of the party's Assembly group at Stormont.

He said the party was now assessing whether the position was still needed.

"The position of deputy leader of the Assembly group is being reviewed," he said.

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