Doug Beattie elected new leader of Ulster Unionist Party
‘Disenfranchised unionists’ who may be centre or centre right will find home with UUP – Beattie
Ulster Unionist Party MLA Doug Beattie (left) during a press conference at Stormont thanking Steve Aiken (right) for his service, after Mr Aiken resigned as leader of the party. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
As nominations for the role closed at noon on Monday, Mr Beattie was uncontested in putting his name forward.
After the deadline passed, Mr Beattie said he “felt the weight of expectation” on his shoulders as he vowed to make his party “fit for the 21st century”.
“I feel the weight of expectation on my shoulder,” he said.
“We are an historic party, we are the party of [Edward] Carson and [James] Craig, but we are a modernising party.
“We are a party which wants to reach out and we will do that by reforming our message, by reforming our party structures.”
Seen as a progressive on social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion reform, Mr Beattie said his party needed to have more high
-profile women and younger members.
Speaking after his election, Mr Beattie suggested a more liberal leadership of the UUP could widen the gap between his party and the DUP, which on Friday elected Edwin Poots as leader, a stalwart of unionism’s more fundamentalist wing.
Mr Beattie said it would give unionism a choice and “those disenfranchised unionists who may be more centre or centre right, will find a home with the Ulster Unionist Party, those who are maybe more to the right may well find a home with a DUP.”
While he would move to reassure more conservative UUP members that they have “nothing to fear” from his leadership, he admitted some may abandon his ranks over the direction he intends to take.
“As the Ulster Unionist Party leader I want to grow and sometimes they say you have to shrink in order to grow and if I have to shrink to grow, that is exactly what I will do,” he said.
“But we will look for policies that are progressive.”
Some within his party “may not like my liberal credentials” in which case “I have to accept that.”
Mr Beattie also ruled out an electoral pact with the DUP in next year’s Assembly elections, saying “it is not needed” in a single transferable vote poll.
Like Mr Poots, Mr Beattie reiterated that the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit withdrawal agreement would be a priority, but he insisted others were “lying” by claiming that Stormont could vote to get rid of the clause in 2024.
“You cannot vote away the Protocol. You can vote away articles five to 10 of the Protocol in four years’ time. And then we go into a two-year period where those articles five to 10 are replaced with something else,” he said.
His party would focus on suggesting alternatives, and would support a veterinary deal with the EU as a way to reduce the number of agri-food checks, he added.
The leader-elect said he would reinvigorate the party by getting into grassroots loyalist estates, while engaging with nationalists, as well as those who did not identify with either community.
Mr Beattie’s leadership has to be ratified by the party’s ruling Ulster Unionist Council in a meeting scheduled to take place on May 27th.
Steve Aiken announced his resignation as party leader earlier this month amid mounting internal disquiet over his stewardship.