A united front from UUP as vote backs Nesbitt's proposal to quit
The Ulster Unionist Party's only minister will no longer be a member of the Executive from midnight on Wednesday, he has confirmed.
Danny Kennedy was speaking after the UUP voted unanimously to back leader Mike Nesbitt's decision to quit the Stormont government.
The Regional Development Minister confirmed that he was preparing to submit a letter of resignation to the First and Deputy First Ministers when the Assembly resumes tomorrow, with his exit coming into effect at midnight.
"It was a unanimous decision and a very good meeting, good atmosphere and the motion was universally endorsed by the party executive," he said, but would not comment further on the party's reasons for pulling out.
Another UUP member present at the meeting at the Park Avenue Hotel in east Belfast on Saturday told the Belfast Telegraph that the party - infamous for splits - was united like no other time in recent memory when it voted to leave the Executive.
A party insider told the Belfast Telegraph that the meeting was "incredibly positive".
"The party is 100% behind Mike's decision to go into opposition.
"We are prepared to offer a credible alternative to the DUP and Sinn Fein's record of failure and deadlock," he said.
The UUP will have seven days to nominate a replacement or it will be handed to the next party due a ministerial post under the complex d'Hondt mechanism.
That party is the DUP, which is under pressure to either endorse the Ulster Unionist position and risk collapsing the Assembly or formally oppose the UUP.
The DUP has not commented on whether or not it will take the seat.
Finance Minister Arlene Foster said it was the time for "cool heads" and maintaining pressure on republicans.
"Sinn Fein has to decide if it is going to cling to its worn-out mantra that the PIRA has left the stage or if it is going to face down those elements in the republican movement who cling to criminality," she said.
She added that "people should be making decisions using their head rather than their heart". Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said the UUP position was "more about attempting to achieve an electoral advantage over the DUP than any principled position".
"This decision is based solely in attempting to gain an electoral advantage over the DUP and nothing else," he claimed. "He has abdicated his responsibilities to the people who voted for his party and disenfranchised large swathes of unionism." Meanwhile, TUV leader Jim Allister claimed the UUP "has done the right thing", adding, it was now "over to the DUP".
"Are they going to license the IRA to kill again by turning a blind eye to murder and clinging to office with the Provos' political wing? It's time to come out from among them," he said.
"It's no time for mere bluff and bluster, but it's time to face the reality that a Stormont Executive built on the lies and excusing of IRA violence is a Stormont of not just failure, but shame."
The Republic's Foreign Minister warned of the dangers of "car-crash politics".
Charlie Flanagan said it was "incumbent on everybody to make sure that we return to a recommitment of the basic principles, to the institutions and indeed the gains of the Good Friday Agreement".