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Ulster Unionist Party sharks circle Basil McCrea as outspoken MLA faces a motion of no confidence from his own branch

By Liam Clarke

Outspoken Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea is facing a motion of no confidence, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The motion against the Lagan Valley MLA has been proposed for his constituency party’s AGM later this month.

It comes as UUP leader Mike Nesbitt gave his clearest hint yet that he intends a joint strategy with the DUP and other unionists, something Mr McCrea fiercely opposes in an article he has written in today’s Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Nesbitt has also appealed to flag protesters to join the unionist forum he is organising with DUP leader Peter Robinson.

He said: “The broad unionist family has all bought into a political strategy, whether it was 1998, Belfast Hillsborough or St Andrews in between. We never had a really unified voice and if you did, how much stronger would you be trying to negotiate a cross-community settlement knowing you weren’t looking over your shoulder?”

There is a sense that the sharks are circling Mr McCrea and the mood is growing to get rid of him. Mr Nesbitt has already removed the Stormont whip from him.

The motion of no confidence was announced in an email from Philip McNeill, a party activist, to other members of the Lagan Valley Ulster Unionist Association on Wednesday.

It cites an interview that Mr McCrea had given to the Belfast Telegraph that morning.

Mr McNeill states: “Basil has laid down the gauntlet and suggested that he will not attend a disciplinary committee, but instead use the Press as his proxy and will use confidential emails not only to defend him(self) but to destroy others.”

He writes: “I propose a motion of absolute no confidence in Basil McCrea MLA.”

David Archer, a former councillor, will be supporting the motion.

But last night Mr McCrea said: “I believe I have the confidence of my constituency association.”

Today a disciplinary hearing is scheduled which could expel, fine him or deprive him of his post as chair of a Stormont committee.

However, Mr McCrea, who will be in Scotland visiting his daughter, has sent his apologies.

Last night senior party sources said the committee may offer him another date but that the disciplinary proceedings would not be halted.

Jim Dillon, a veteran member of the association, said: “Basil McCrea should do the decent thing and resign. I was one of the people he approached when he wanted to join the party. I helped him, but I have never been so disappointed in anyone in my life.”

Mr Dillon added that he was not influenced by the flags issue.

“It is just that he is not a team player,” he stated.

With all these voices raised against him, the UUP is becoming an increasingly hostile environment for Mr McCrea.

Last month the party’s three councillors in Belfast threatened to resign when he clashed with them over the flags issue.

And writing in today’s paper, he takes another swipe at the party, saying it “is tempted to retreat to the core and to seek safety in electoral pacts, joined candidates and greater unionist co-operation, oblivious to the fact that this will lead to its destruction as an independent political party”.

With some arguing for greater unionist unity, what does the future hold for Basil McCrea? He answers questions posed by Liam Clarke

Q Is there a sound legal basis for flying the flag all-year round?

A Legal advice has been provided to Lisburn City Council, Stormont and indeed Belfast City Council that suggests that flying the flags on designated days was the safe and appropriate way forward. That was also the position the Ulster Unionist Party set out in a submission to a Stormont committee.

Q Has the Ulster Unionist Party departed from the principles which it held when you joined it?

A There is dialogue going on within the party about what it stands for and what its vision and values are. It clearly needs to differentiate itself from the DUP. I am quite adamant that what I signed up to was the set of principles enshrined in the Belfast Agreement. It now appears that not everybody in the party voted for that.

Q Can the party contain these differences?

A The party faces a key challenge to say what it actually stands for and why someone should vote for it rather than some other party. Unless it can do that it is not going to win new voters or even preserve its existing voter base.

There are strong differences of opinion and the recent run of elections has not been good for the party. It really does need to work out what it stands for.

Q Some argue that the UUP should be more closely aligned with the DUP or amalgamated with it to form a single unionist party.

A I am convinced that a single unionist party would be a huge strategic error and I have argued strongly against it. It is not just that it would deny people a democratic choice.

It is likely to produce a similar response on the nationalist side.

That could only increase polarisation along basically sectarian lines and polarisation is unlikely to build a stable, long-term future for Northern Ireland.

Q Have you considered joining any other party?

A I am reflecting on the situation. I have stayed with the Ulster Unionist Party through thick and thin and will continue to do so as long as I am convinced that the party is committed to the vision set out in the Belfast Agreement.

Q Are you willing to attend a disciplinary hearing if a suitable date can be agreed for it?

A Yes, absolutely. I have asked them to provide details of what the charges are so that I can prepare a thorough answer.

So far the only details I have seen of any charges are what I have read in the Belfast Telegraph.

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