UUP defector Craig brands Mike Nesbitt an 'amateur'
A Belfast City councillor has become the second Ulster Unionist representative to defect to the DUP within 48 hours.
On the eve of the DUP's annual conference, Councillor Graham Craig announced that he was joining Arlene Foster's party - and launched a scathing attack on his own former party leader, Mike Nesbitt, whom he branded "a hapless amateur".
The DUP will present the defections of Mr Craig, and of young Limavady councillor Aaran Callan, as a major coup when it gathers for its conference in Belfast tomorrow.
Mrs Foster last night hailed their departure as "another hammer blow" to the UUP.
In disparaging comments directed at his former party, Mr Craig branded Mr Nesbitt "out of touch" and described veteran UUP officials and strategists as the "good old boys" destined to keep making catastrophic mistakes that would guarantee electoral oblivion.
He praised Mrs Foster as a hard-working leader who could articulate the unionist cause "in the corridors of power in Washington and London" as well as deliver electoral success at home. Comparing Mr Nesbitt to Mrs Foster, Mr Craig said: "In contrast her opponent often appears to be a hapless amateur who is not quite sure how he ended up in the job or what to do next. 'That Song!' 'That Safari Suit!' 'That Envelope!'
"The proposition that, 'vote Mike, get Colum' is any more appealing to unionist voters than 'vote Mike, get Mike' has proven to be incredulous. How about 'vote Mike, get Colum and Jeremy too' as a sales pitch in rural Ulster?"
Mr Craig, who has represented the Botanic ward in South Belfast since 2014, was previously a Spad (special adviser) at Stormont for three years to former DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, although he never joined the party. He now works as an economist.
An Orangeman, from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, he is right-wing on economic issues - although he supported the Remain campaign during the referendum. He is known on Belfast City Council for his hardline stance against Sinn Fein. He is also a trenchant critic of loyalist paramilitaries and, during the summer, denounced the UVF for erecting paramilitary flags in east Belfast.
Welcoming Mr Craig, Mrs Foster revealed he had joined the Young Unionists at Queen's University Belfast on the same day as herself, and had been involved in politics for almost 27 years.
"Graham knows that the best way for unionism to unite is to do so around the DUP as we now represent a wide spectrum of unionism," she said. "Today's decision by Graham to leave the UUP, coming after Councillor Aaron Callan's decision, is another hammer blow to that party and is further public evidence of the momentum we have gained.
"More and more, I am encountering Ulster Unionists who are bewildered with where that party is going.
"I look forward to working alongside all of those who have joined the party in recent days as we move Northern Ireland forward."
Mr Craig's defection leaves the UUP with only six councillors in Belfast, making it now the smallest of the five main parties.
The leader of the DUP council group, Lee Reynolds, said: "I am pleased to welcome Graham Craig to the DUP team in City Hall and South Belfast. Consolidation and growth of the DUP within City Hall will be positive for unionism and the council."