Lord Maginnis attempted to secure the resignation of Mike Nesbitt as Ulster Unionist leader before quitting the party himself, it has emerged.
Private emails disclosed that the senior — and now former — UUP figure demanded Mr Nesbitt had to go, just five months after he took over the beleaguered party.
Though a member for some 50 years, the former MP decided to stand down following a clash over his controversial view that gay marriage is “a rung on the ladder” towards “other deviant practices” like bestiality.
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone veteran fell foul of Mr Nesbitt after defying party rules not to give media interviews without permission.
But the peer felt he had been humiliated when Mr Nesbitt then withdrew the party whip from him.
He announced his decision to leave on Tuesday, just hours after an offer from Mr Nesbitt for the whip to be restored.
Lord Maginnis also insisted he did not want to lead another exodus from the party, which has suffered from a drip-feed of departures in recent years. But his decision could lead to further damage.
Lord Maginnis is a popular and widely-respected figure in the party — even some who disagree with him argue he has a right to his opinions. He also belongs to the Fermanagh and Tyrone power base that helped Mr Nesbitt gain his leadership victory.
It emerged that Lord Maginnis emailed Mr Nesbitt two weeks ago urging him to tender his resignation, even though the peer supported him in the leadership contest in April.
The email suggested Mr Nesbitt should stand down on the basis “that the party has not been able to prosper under your leadership and that you lack the ability to make incisive decisions”.
In a reply, Mr Nesbitt said he believed the issue over homosexuality would be regarded as having passed by late September or early October, when, he indicated, he could restore the whip.
Mr Nesbitt added: “I am upset to read you believe I have humiliated you. Let me stress I have not heard anyone, yourself excepted, express that view.
“May I also stress that it was you, not I, who took the decision to engage in media interviews after all members were expressly asked to consult the Press office first. The language used to express your views was also of your choosing, not mine.
“You defied the party and myself by going onto the media a number of times and throwing a public challenge to me and the party.”
But it also emerged an email sent yesterday from Mr Nesbitt to Lord Maginnis said that he was willing to change his timetable for restoring the whip and said that he now saw “no reason for delay to offer to restore the whip. I am, therefore, making that offer”.
A senior party source said the main reason for the offer was that Lord Maginnis is about to go on an extended family holiday and “there was no reason to delay”.
On Tuesday Lord Maginnis told journalists: “Currently there is no room for independent or logical thinking (in the UUP) and that does not suit me.”
He said he stood by his views on gay marriage and had lost all confidence in Mr Nesbitt, whose election as leader he described as “a mistake”. In a statement, Mr Nesbitt said he believed the dispute could have been settled at any time, and he had hoped for the opposite outcome.
“He was the sort of progressive unionist I admire. I regret we will not have access to his experience as we move to rebuild this great party. However, 50 years' service is a lifetime's devotion, and I must respect his decision,” he added.
The latest resignation came five months after Mr Nesbitt made clear he did not envisage another veteran UUP man, David McNarry, returning to the Assembly following a disciplinary wrangle.
And the whip was also withdrawn from Antrim councillor Adrian Cochrane-Watson after he appeared on the BBC without party permission. A senior figure said, however, he has now had the whip restored.
Jeffrey Donaldson, who left the UUP to join the DUP, said the party had treated Mr Maginnis “very badly”. On Twitter he added: “Ken and I may not always have seen eye to eye but he was a fearless opponent of terrorism.”
Former UDR major who has always been his own man
By Noel McAdam
Ken Maginnis made history almost 20 years ago when he broke a unionist taboo by agreeing to media interviews alongside Sinn Fein members.
His TV clashes with republicans — first in the United States and later on the BBC — were an early sign that the political landscape was changing.
But the latter Beeb exchange with Mitchel McLaughlin was never broadcast because the IRA broke its ceasefire with the bomb attack at Canary Wharf in February 1996.
As a former major in the Ulster Defence Regiment, Maginnis had been under constant threat of terrorist attack for many years and took a hard line on security issues.
Politically, he was often more moderate than the mainstream of his party at that time.
He was MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone for 18 years, from 1983 to 2001, and was an important component of selling the process which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to grassroots supporters.
As his own man, Maginnis had an uneasy relationship with many in the party, including, at times Lord Trimble.
While listed as UUP, the peer had in recent years acted as a ‘cross bencher’ in the House of Lords.
A former headmaster, Maginnis has also a long record in local government, serving as a councillor in Dungannon for well over a decade. A member of the old Northern Ireland Assembly from 1982-86, he also chaired its security committee.