Belfast Telegraph

NI election: Mike Nesbitt quits as UUP leader - Doug Beattie rules himself out... for now

By Jonny Bell

Mike Nesbitt dramatically resigned as leader of Ulster Unionist Party following a dismal showing at the election.

And asked - almost instantly - if he would consider running for leader, the returned Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie ruled it out "for now".

After almost five years in office Mike Nesbitt left an election count in Newtownards to announce his resignation. It came as the party looked like it was dropping from 16 to around 11 seats.

A day of disaster included the loss of former deputy Danny Kennedy and Jo-Anne Dobson. Others to lose their seats included Philip Smith, Harold McKee and Jenny Palmer.

The party's AGM is in two weeks time. Mr Nesbitt said he planned to stay on as an MLA.

Mr Nesbitt said it would be "the height of hypocrisy" if he was to stay on after criticising Arlene Foster for failing to take responsibility over the RHI scandal in recent months.

Alongside wife Lynda he declined to take questions.

In front of the Press at a Belfast hotel, Mr Nesbitt said: "We all know why we are here and I will make my statement and leave the stage.

"I have of course been reflecting on the implications of today's results for the party and for me as leader both in pure terms and contextually.

"When I say contextually I mean that I have been criticising another party leader for three months for not taking responsibility for actions that occurred on their watch.

"So it would be the height of hypocrisy if I did not take full responsibility for the results today for the Ulster Unionists.

"The buck stops here."

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Nesbitt's campaign pledge to transfer a second preference vote to the nationalist SDLP appears to have been his undoing, with unionist voters clearly not keen on him voicing support for any candidate that favoured a united Ireland.

With the UUP failing to make any ground on the DUP, and losing a number of high-profile seats, the former TV anchor fell on his sword.

He said that he will remain in position while his successor is found.

"I led into this election, I was the one who argued it should be a referendum on RHI and on the 10 years of Sinn Fein and DUP leading our Executive," he said.

"I am the one who suggested people would vote on performance and the DUP and Sinn Fein did not earn another mandate. And I was the one that said this should be Northern Ireland's first post-sectarian election based on the economy, health, housing and education.

"The electorate disagreed and did not give me a mandate big enough for me to feel justified to continue so I shall not."

He added: "The results indicate that this society is more polarised than ever than it is committed to a shared future. Northern Ireland will vote in a normal democracy, it will vote in a post-sectarian election.

"It is now clear that will not happen in my political life-time."

Mr Nesbitt said it had been an "absolute honour" to lead the party.

Doug Beattie reacting said he was sorry over the resignation of a "personal friend".

He ruled out "right now" putting his name in the hat for the job, saying he had only heard about it 10 minutes earlier but said things could change.

"I only just heard about this 10 minutes earlier and I have not even spoken to Mike yet. So at this stage I have no intention."

He added: "Mike is a noble man and has taken it on his shoulders a poor showing for the Ulster Unionists. I wish he hadn't and instead stayed on to steady the ship.

"He was the one who took the brave decision to take us into Opposition.

"I was only elected to the Assembly eight months ago. I am pretty new to politics and have an awful lot to learn and need to do some good work, an apprenticeship of sorts. So I am not the right man to lead the UUP at this time."

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