David Burnside, now a businessman and still a party member, has claimed that talks held last year were halted after UUP Assembly Member David McNarry revealed details of parallel contacts in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph that January.
Mr McNarry, now an MLA for Ukip, left the Ulster Unionists after Tom Elliott, then party leader, disciplined him for talking.
“The process I was involved in was halted by Tom Elliott because of the McNarry affair. Tom didn’t believe he could proceed after that,” Mr Burnside said.
Mr Burnside spoke to the Belfast Telegraph before appearing on a
BBC Spotlight programme last night.
Mr Elliott did not appear on the programme but was quoted denying that he knew the details and saying that he pulled the plug once he became aware that a merger was being discussed.
However, Mr Burnside said on Spotlight that the talks considered plans for “one party, one membership, one leadership, one manifesto, one Parliamentary party at Westminster, one Parliamentary party in the Executive, one party in Europe.”
Mr Burnside told the programme makers that participants “believed it was worthwhile exploring the plusses and minuses of niting unionism and we prepared a policy paper.” Mr Elliott denies seeing this paper.
They raised money to jointly finance opinion polls to gauge support for unionist unity and which policies would appeal to people.
This policy paper involved a road map to unity which could proceed step by step and, in theory, be halted at any time. It involved co-operation in elections, as witnessed in the recent Mid Ulster by-election, and the formation of an umbrella group for unionism.
Mr Burnside acknowledged this to the Belfast Telegraph.
Despite progressing along the unity road map, party leader Mike Nesbitt told Spotlight: “A merger will not happen on my watch. I am ruling out unionist unity.”
Mike Tonge, Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool, likened a merger between the UUP and DUP to a merger “between a cat and a canary”, writes Liam Clarke.
The closer the two get the surer it is one will eat the other.
It needn’t be like that, but to avoid destruction the UUP must decide where it is going. Otherwise it will, as former MLA John McCallister said last year, end up sleepwalking into unity.
Unity has something to be said for it, but the UUP can’t make the case because it is in denial. Its position is like a man who, when spotted flirting with a younger woman, protests: “This isn’t what it looks like.”
Nobody believes him — and if he keeps saying it he becomes a figure of fun.
As things stand, the DUP has the UUP exactly where it wants them. It can cajole or bully the smaller party as the situation requires.
Revelations of secret talks and confidential documents won’t damage Mr Robinson’s party — it has been advocating union for years and talk of a liaison strengthens its cause.
Any pain from disclosure is on the UUP side.
If it denies anything is happening, the DUP can call it a hypocrite and produce the love letters.
Mike Nesbitt should take a long, hard look. If he wants unity with the DUP he should stop beating about the bush.
If he doesn’t he should strike out on his own.
Either course is painful.