Beattie will consider UUP leadership bid ‘if party comes calling’

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie has not ruled himself out of vying for the party leadership, admitting he would consider it “if the party came calling”.

The Upper Bann representative had seemingly declined the job in a live television interview on Friday.

Robin Swann said he was gauging support for a leadership bid

Robin Swann said he was gauging support for a leadership bid

Just minutes after Mike Nesbitt’s resignation, Mr Beattie told the BBC he did not yet have the “depth of political knowledge” required to lead the UUP.

Having taken stock of the situation in recent days, Mr Beattie revealed to the News Letter yesterday that he was not categorically ruling out the possibility of throwing his hat into the ring.

Mr Beattie, who was first elected to the Assembly last May, said: “I genuinely believe that as a pollitician I need to do an apprenticeship by serving the people of Upper Bann.

“So as it stands, I will not be putting my name forward. However, that could change if there is overwhelming support from within the party for me to do so.

Steve Aiken would not say whether he planned to stand for the leadership

Steve Aiken would not say whether he planned to stand for the leadership

“In my mind the country comes first, then the party, then the individual. So if the party comes calling, I would consider it.”

Mr Beattie, a war veteran who served in Afghanistan, is seen as being on the more liberal wing of the party.

Meanwhile, other names circulating as possible contenders for the leadership include Robin Swann and Steve Aiken.

North Antrim MLA Mr Swann, whose is regarded as a traditionalist, told the News Letter yesterday he had “put the feelers out” to gauge support for putting his name forward.

Mr Swann, a former chair of the Public Accounts Committee who was first elected to the Assembly in 2011, added: “To be considered for the leadership contest, you need 35 signatures from across nine associations. I have been sounding out to see if the support is there for me.”

The News Letter also contacted another potential front-runner for the leadership, South Antrim MLA Mr Aiken.

However, the former nuclear submarine commander would not answer directly whether he planned to stand, instead referring the paper on to the party’s press office.

Other MLAs who have been mentioned as outside contenders are Robbie Butler and Roy Beggs.

In a statement, the UUP said: “Nominations for the leadership must be in by noon on Friday, March 24.

“A new leader will be chosen at the AGM to be held on April 8 – one member one vote.

“Mike Nesbitt remains as leader until then.”

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