The chairman of the North Down Ulster Unionist Association has resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and joined the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Mark Brooks, 45, made the announcement on Monday. He said: “I have been unhappy for sometime within the Ulster Unionist Party.
“This unhappiness stems from the fact that internal wrangling and attempts to sell themselves to the Conservative Party have been of higher priority than that of serving the people of Northern Ireland.
“I don’t have a problem with the personalities involved and I think the UUP will come again, but at the minute it just looks very bad,” he said.
This comes as a further blow to the UUP after Lady Sylvia Hermon said last week that she would not stand at the next general election under the Conservative and Unionist banner.
Lady Hermon is the party’s only MP. She said last week that she was elected as an Ulster Unionist and would only serve under that mandate.
“If my party chooses to move to call themselves by a different name, I’m terribly sorry and terribly disappointed by that, but I remain an Ulster Unionist,” she said.
These comments led to her local party chairman saying she may disqualify herself as a future Ulster Unionist candidate.
Colin Breen of the Groomsport and Ballyholme branch of the UUP said any party member would have to accept the party whip to be eligible for selection.
Mr Breen said: “My understanding is that irrespective of what might happen in the North Down association, if she does not accept our current tie with the Conservative Party, I think
she’s debarring herself from becoming a candidate.”
It is believed that Mr Brooks was unhappy with how this matter was dealt with by the party leadership.
Responding to Mr Brooks’ resignation, UUP party leader Sir Reg Empey said: “Mr Brooks is quoted in a newspaper fully endorsing Lady Hermon.
“Odd then that he has defected to the DUP, a party which will be fielding a candidate in opposition to Lady Hermon at the next election, a party which has subjected her to constant attack since she was first elected as an MP.”
The UUP and the Conservative Party announced earlier this year that they would fight elections in Northern Ireland on a joint ticket and under the new name of Ulster Conservatives and Unionists —New Force.