Belfast Telegraph

Nesbitt signals UUP leader intent

The contest to become the new leader of the Ulster Unionist party is set to be a three horse race after journalist turned MLA Mike Nesbitt took out nomination papers for the position.

The move by the former broadcaster came after UUP deputy leader John McCallister and the party's sole Executive minister Danny Kennedy both threw their hats in the ring to succeed Tom Elliott.

But another potential candidate, Basil McCrea, has signalled he will not stand - instead backing his close friend Mr McCallister.

While former victims' commissioner Mr Nesbitt has not finally decided if he will stand, taking out nomination papers is a clear signal of intent from the Strangford representative.

"I have taken out the papers and remain in listening mode," he said. "I am very encouraged by the support I have received, not only the amount of it but also the sources it is coming from."

Earlier Mr McCallister vowed to take the UUP into opposition against the powersharing administration if elected leader.

"I want to set out a clear distinct agenda for the Ulster Unionist Party, where people can vote on the issues instead of turning every election into a border poll," said the South Down MLA, who declared himself an 'unashamed liberal progressive unionist'. You need robust scrutiny of government and that's what I would provide if I am elected as leader. I believe passionately that you need a better system in place."

UUP Regional Development minister Danny Kennedy was the first to confirm he would run. The Newry and Armagh MLA said: "I have taken out nomination papers for the position of leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. And I intend to submit those papers."

The party is due to hold its annual meeting on March 31 to vote on who should take on the huge challenge of saving a struggling party which was once the dominant force in Northern Ireland politics, but is now without an MP at Westminster.

Mr Nesbitt received a boost when members of the Ulster Young Unionist Council backed him as leader. Eight of the 11 members of the UYUC's executive committee signed an open letter supporting the Strangford MLA.

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