DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said claims he was in talks with UUP leader Doug Beattie about rejoining his old party remain “nonsense”.
Mr Beattie confirmed yesterday that he initiated a meeting last June and that he understood it was organised to discuss Sir Jeffrey joining his party.
Sir Jeffrey last week said he was approached by the UUP on the issue but insists he never had any intention of rejoining a party he left in 2003.
Sir Jeffrey said yesterday that at the meeting, Mr Beattie had “reiterated his desire that I consider membership of his party”, but “matters went no further as I determined that I was not re-joining the UUP”.
The Lagan Valley MP said: “In the context of global events and the current economic and cost-of-living crisis, I am focused on the issues which matter to people.
“As I indicated last week, the BBC contacted me and tried to portray that I was about to leave the DUP and re-join the UUP last year. I stand by my characterisation of that claim as nonsense.
“I have been quite open about the fact that I was approached. I met Doug Beattie at a venue of his choosing. At that meeting, Doug reiterated his desire that I consider membership of his party and we also discussed issues about the future of unionism.
“On the issue of re-joining, matters went no further as I determined that I was not re-joining the UUP.
“I will continue to engage with unionists from across all parties and work towards achieving greater cooperation and working on the issues which really matter to people.”
Mr Beattie told The Nolan Show that “the invite was to come and think about coming to consider rejoining the Ulster Unionist Party so that is what the conversation was about. Everything we talked about was in that vein”.
He said that if his integrity is questioned, he will publish details of messages between himself and Sir Jeffrey.
The Upper Bann MLA said he would rather not comment on the meeting with Sir Jeffrey that took place in the first two weeks of last June in an army base, but he had been forced to clarify the issue as it was now in the public domain.
The meeting occurred after Sir Jeffrey was defeated by Edwin Poots for leadership of the DUP. The Poots reign came to an end after just three weeks, but sources say during that time a number of senior DUP members were considering their political future with the party.
Mr Beattie said: “It was not a secret meeting, but it was a private meeting. My integrity is really important to me so I have to answer a question that someone else put into the political domain, so I am answering it honestly and openly with as much candour as I can without going into the specifics.
“If someone wants to challenge me on my integrity then I will do everything I can to do to make sure people know I am an open and honest politician, who is standing here giving a version of the truth that is the truth.
“I intend to publish nothing, but if people are going to challenge me then I will do everything that I need to do to make sure people understand that I am an honest politician and I am telling the truth.”
He added that the information about the meeting was not leaked by a member of his party, but that the version of events contained in a statement released last week by Sir Jeffrey was his understanding of what the two men discussed.
Last week, Sir Jeffrey said he turned down an offer to re-join the party.
“I have remained quiet about the speculation that broke, and it did not come from us (UUP) in any shape or form and we have remained quiet out of respect for the family of Christopher Stalford,” Mr Beattie said.
“Unfortunately, some people have put information in the public domain.”
DUP MLA Christopher Stalford died suddenly last week and was laid to rest on Saturday.
Mr Beattie said: “The reality is this: I made an approach to Jeffrey Donaldson and asked him would he consider re-joining the Ulster Unionist Party.
“From that approach we organised a meeting where we sat down together, and we talked about what my approach was all about. I saw an opportunity to get an MP into the Ulster Unionist Party at a time of great flux within the DUP.
“That never came to fruition, and as far as I’m concerned, that is the story as it stands. It was a long meeting and we talked about all the issues that we faced.”
When asked did he believe at the end of the meeting if Sir Jeffrey was considering a future in the UUP, Mr Beattie said “absolutely”.
“We had a long conversation, at the end of that meeting Sir Jeffrey did not say he would come to the Ulster Unionist Party, but neither did he say he would not.
“So, we left it and circumstances meant that we couldn’t meet again. And after that the wider circumstances concerning the DUP overtook us.”
Mr Beattie added: “I have documentary evidence that I made an offer to Sir Jeffrey. He went to the media first and said I made that offer, and from that we organised a meeting to discuss what that offer entailed.
“I will say this, and people need to understand this, every single action I took I did not take in isolation.
“I spoke to my party chairman at every single level. The moment I engaged I spoke to my party chairman… when the talks were finished I went back to my party chairman and I told him what the outcome of those talks were.
“So that’s what I did, you need to ask what others did, they can stick to whatever line they want. There is no need to get into a spat here and I don’t want to, all I want to do is put the record straight.”
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