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Basil McCrea backers to stay despite UUP leadership defeat

Basil McCrea’s backers defiantly declared last night that “we’re going nowhere” despite their man’s defeat in the UUP leadership race.

Senior figures who were opposed to Tom Elliott taking over the party also insisted its liberal and traditional wings will now come together — and avoid almost any resignations.

As well-known member Trevor Ringland yesterday warned that he might go, the sole Assembly Member to work for the McCrea campaign said he did not think there would be “many, if any” members quitting.

John McCallister said: “We left the Waterfront Hall as a united party and that is how I think we will go into the next (Assembly and local government) election.

He also revealed that Mr Elliott phoned Mr McCrea yesterday for a conversation on how they can work together and revitalise the beleaguered party.

And he said he believed the new UUP chief would also be speaking with ex-rugby international Mr Ringland, who signalled Mr Elliotts’ failure to accept two tickets for the All-Ireland GAA final might precipitate his departure.

“Building on the positive atmosphere at the Waterfront Hall will be a two-way process, but we all have one common interest, in the party,” Mr McCallister added.

And senior McCrea supporter Paula Bradshaw said: “People have been contacting me since the election threatening to quit. I've just said to them ‘next week it'll back to business’. If some people want to walk off in some big huff, let them go. I'm not going anywhere.”

Mr McCrea spoke in positive terms about the impact of his campaign on the party.

“I believe my arguments have won the day on many issues and that I've shifted people's positions. I stood on the basis that I believe unionism is stronger if it is inclusive,” he said.

A prominent figure of the party's liberal wing, Mr Ringland publicly called on Mr Elliott to rethink his position of declining to attend GAA matches.

He pledged to secure tickets for the new UUP leader for next year's All-Ireland GAA final and said he will leave the party if the offer is declined.

Meanwhile, Mr Elliott hit the ground running yesterday with a series of party meetings, including party chairman David Campbell, and a round of interviews with the Press.

The Fermanagh farmer, who took more than two-thirds of the 1,000 rank-and-file votes, said he wants to develop former leader David Trimble’s concept of the “settled will” of the party.

“I want to see a settled mindset for the people of Northern Ireland, so that people can have a degree of satisfaction living in the UK even if they still harbour aspirations, which are their absolute right, of a united Ireland,” he said.

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