Robbie Butler rules himself out of UUP party leadership bid

Decision means Doug Beattie is the only contender to replace Steve Aiken

Steve Aiken (centre) with party colleagues Robbie Butler (left), and Doug Beattie (right) at Stormont after  Mr Aiken’s  resigning as leader of the UUP.  Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Steve Aiken (centre) with party colleagues Robbie Butler (left), and Doug Beattie (right) at Stormont after Mr Aiken’s resigning as leader of the UUP. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Former firefighter Robbie Butler has announced he will not stand for the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.

The decision by the Lagan Valley MLA means Doug Beattie is the only contender in the running to replace outgoing leader Steve Aiken.

In a statement released on Wednesday night Mr Butler backed former army captain Mr Beattie’s leadership bid.

He said: “Whilst I have given thought to the idea of leading the party at some stage, I did not expect to be considering it this week.

“Events late last week have caused me to focus my thinking and aspirations for the future of Northern Ireland and my role within the UUP.

“It has been perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of my life to continue my 20-year public service into the political sphere and it is my intention to continue on that path for the foreseeable future; however at this stage, it will not be as the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.”

Mr Butler continued: “I have been overwhelmed by messages from friends, strangers, constituents, business people and many more with encouragement and well wishes. I thank each and every one of you. The validation and encouragement to stand as a candidate has been truly inspiring, and isn’t wasted.

“I am even more convinced and determined that there is more that unites us than divides us, and it is in that same manner that it will be my pleasure to serve under the leadership of Doug Beattie MC MLA if he indeed is elected the new leader of the UUP.

“A top team needs players with different but complementary skills and I am convinced that we have the ability, resource and energy to cut through as Northern Ireland charts a way out of the Covid-19 pandemic and looks positively towards its second century.

“Please be assured that my few days considering the leadership of this proud party was serious but personal ambition must always come second to doing what is right for Northern Ireland. Having listened to Doug speak on the media this week and spent some time with him personally, I believe we have a candidate who possesses the skills and attributes that are currently needed.”

The UUP’s executive met on Tuesday evening to discuss the process for the selection of a new party leader and agreed that nominations would close at noon on Monday.

Mr Aiken’s resignation, 10 days after DUP leader Arlene Foster was forced to quit following an internal party move against her, has thrown political unionism into further turmoil.

The announcement was prompted by mounting discontent within the party over his stewardship. When he announced his intention to stand for the leadership on Monday, Mr Beattie said he recognises the party and country face real challenges now and in the future.

He added he wants to present “modern, progressive” pro-union politics.

“It is not enough to sit back in defence of the union, it is time to reach out to promote the union and all its benefits,” he said.

“In doing so we can make Northern Ireland a place where people want to live regardless of identity, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

“I want to build a union of people where everyone feels comfortable being who they want to be with a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.

“I want to represent a pro-union politics that offers a modern, progressive vision for the future of the UK.

“I want to build a Northern Ireland where everyone is able to enjoy a true peace and its benefits, not just the absence of violence.” - PA