The DUP talks of unionist unity — but is out to destroy the Ulster Unionist Party, leader Tom Elliott has warned.
And the UUP boss insisted if his DUP counterpart Peter Robinson hopes to shift his party onto the centre-ground of Northern Ireland politics, he will have a real battle on his hands.
Responding to the DUP’s weekend conference, he said he believed Mr Robinson will run into problems with his grassroots members if he adopts a more liberal stance.
On Saturday Mr Elliott will make his first speech as leader to the UUP’s annual conference — just over two months after taking up office, and against a backdrop of fears he has so far failed to make a significant impact.
Yesterday he said he has met Mr Robinson on a number of occasions but the topic of unionist unity, even after the parties agreed a joint candidate for the General Election in Mr Elliott’s Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, has not been mentioned.
“There have been very mixed messages coming from the DUP on unionist unity. Back in August the former leader Lord Bannside said he was against it and now we have people like Wallace Browne seemingly in favour,” he said.
“I don’t think they know what they mean by it, and I think they are fooling themselves if they think there is going to be any unionist unity.
“Let us be clear, Peter Robinson wants to destroy the Ulster Unionist Party, that is what he has always been out to achieve.”
He added: “But if he thinks he can move further onto our ground, the centre ground, which we have defended and represented for years, we are up for the challenge of that battle — and a battle it will be.”
Mr Robinson set out his stall on Saturday for the DUP becoming not just the largest unionist party but ‘the’ party of Northern Ireland.