New blow for UUP euro campaign as North Down chairman defects
Jim Nicholson’s fight to retain his European seat has sustained its second blow in less than week after a senior member defected to the DUP.
The Conservative and Unionist candidate’s campaign was facing disarray just six days after its only MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon, vowed she would not fight the next General Election under the joint parties banner.
The rift yesterday claimed its first scalp when the chairman of the North Down branch Mark Brooks resigned and indicated he would be joining the ranks of the party’s main rivals.
Mr Brooks, a 45-year-old Donaghadee businessman, indicated he had been unhappy within the UUP for some time, but his defection was hailed as a triumph by the DUP.
“This unhappiness stems from the fact that internal wrangling and attempts of selling themselves to the Conservative Party have been of higher priority than that of serving the people of Northern Ireland. That is not why I am involved in politics,” he said.
“The Conservative Party was responsible for the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, the removal of our own Stormont government before, and it is my feeling that they cannot be trusted on this occasion either.”
Mr Brooks felt the way Lady Hermon had been dealt with by party leader Sir Reg Empey was the last straw. He met her last week but rejected her exhortations to stay within the UUP.
In a statement Mr Brooks contrasted the work of his former local party colleagues compared with DUP councillors. UUP leader Sir Reg Empey said he had “never attempted to try and shoehorn people into something they were not comfortable with”.
“We've got to try to solve these things because ultimately, strategically, I believe it's right for unionism to broaden its base,” said Sir Reg.
“If it's confined to Northern Ireland then, I think, we are in a weaker position than if we have a national edge to us. That's what we're trying to do in this current campaign because we will be part of a larger, wider group in Europe.”
Strangford DUP MLA Jim Shannon said: “It gives me great pleasure to welcome Mark to the DUP. His talents will certainly be a bonus for the DUP.”