Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea voted against his colleagues for the first time on Monday over what he viewed as the party’s reluctance to champion the almost 15-year-old Good Friday Agreement.
With the party whip already withdrawn — over his support for flying the Union flag on designated days — Mr McCrea voted against a DUP amendment which dropped a call for parties to support the “spirit” of the 1998 accord.
All other members of his party — apart from John McCallister, who was attending a funeral — backed the DUP amendent replacing backing for the Good Friday Agreement with support for the “principle of consent”.
His party leader Mike Nesbitt argued Mr McCrea should have been able to calculate that the amendment would not be supported after Sinn Fein tabled a petition of concern, which required the amendment to have majority backing among both unionists and nationalists.
After the initial vote — on which Mr Nesbitt was supported by former UUP colleague David McClarty — the amendment fell.
More than 30 members of the DUP then voted against the original UUP motion calling on all political parties “to support the spirit of the Belfast Agreement” and condemn all recent acts of violence and intimidation linked to the on-going flags protest.
But the main motion — reaffirming the committment of the Assembly to the “principles of inclusivity, mutual respect, peace and democracy” — was then passed on a straight vote, 64 to 33.
Afterwards Mr McCrea told the Belfast Telegraph: “To my mind I voted in favour of Ulster Unionist policy which is in support of the Good Friday Agreement, which was the crowning achievement of the party in modern times and why I joined in the first place.”