23/06/2003

Disarray in UUP as three MPs resign party whip

The resignation of three of the Ulster Unionist Party's MPs from the parliamentary whip earlier today was quickly follows by calls for party leader David Trimble to change party policy or resign.

UUP president and South Belfast MP, Rev Martin Smyth, Lagan Valley MP, Jeffrey Donaldson and South Antrim MP David Burnside announced their decision to resign the whip in the hope of increasing the pressure on Mr Trimble to alter his support for the recent British Irish Joint Declaration.

At a press conference this morning, the three disaffected UUP MPs, half of the party’s Westminster complement, said: "The leadership of our party does not represent, and cannot speak for, a growing majority of unionists and has comprehensively failed to address their concerns.

"These people need a voice and we will work with other unionists of a like mind in parliament to ensure that their views are properly represented and their concerns adequately addressed."

Mr Burnside said that the party leader's position was “untenable” unless there was a complete volte face by the UUP leadership.

It is thought likely that all three MPs will discuss a possible united unionist front against the Joint Declaration with representatives of the hardline anti-agreement unionist parties - UK Unionist Party, led by former MP Robert McCartney; and the Democratic Unionist Party, led by the Dr Ian Paisley.

Expressing his regret that Mr Donaldson had decided not to join his party, Dr Paisley said it was nonetheless clear that the "majority of unionists now share the common view that the Belfast Agreement and its offspring, the Joint Declaration, do not provide the basis for political stability in Northern Ireland".

Due to today's unexpected developments, a meeting between Mr Trimble and Irish Premier Bertie Ahern scheduled for Dublin today was cancelled.

The UUP's Northern Ireland assembly party members expressed regret at the MPs resignation from the whip and said it showed contempt for the decision by the party’s ruling council delegates to back Mr Trimble.

(SP/MB)

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