Empey to stand down as UUP leader
SIR REG Empey is to stand down as Ulster Unionist leader in the autumn and has called on Peter Robinson to consider his position as head of the DUP.
Sir Reg, whose party failed to win any seats in a Westminster election for the first time in a century, met the British Conservatives at the weekend to discuss the future, the leadership and the electoral link. The party has committed itself to a review of the outcome which will be presented to its annual conference in the autumn when a new leader will be chosen.
Given the loss of Peter Robinson’s Westminster seat in East Belfast, Sir Reg suggested the DUP should also consider a new approach to unionist politics.
“Perhaps both of us could leave the stage and allow a fresh leadership to look at the situation anew, without any baggage,” he said.
“If I can put myself in this position having failed to win a seat I’d never held, perhaps somebody who held their seat but lost it might think about his position.” With the “unlikely survival” of the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice, Sir Reg said perhaps wider unionism should consider its position and adopt a longer-term view.
His decision to quit and his call for the DUP leader to consider doing likewise appears to be in support of a form of unionist unity – something he believes cannot happen with himself as leader of the Ulster Unionists and Mr Robinson heading the DUP.
Sir Reg told the BBC yesterday that unionist unity meant different things to different people and he was not a supporter of the idea of simply “bolting together” the UUP and DUP.
Referring to Sinn Féin’s victory in Fermanagh South Tyrone over a unionist unity candidate, Sir Reg added: “The lesson of Fermanagh South Tyrone needs to be learned. If you are going to have co-operation it is going to have to be based on values and policies, not simply rolling everybody together into a room on a sectarian headcount basis . . . That’s the best circumstance in which a review should take place.”
Both unionist parties are under pressure to make progress in preparation for next year’s Assembly poll aware that Sinn Féin could emerge as the largest party, thus entitling Martin McGuinness to take the First Minister’s position.