Ulster Unionist Party leader, Steve Aiken OBE MLA, said:
“The news that Arlene Foster is to leave the DUP after being forced to resign as its leader, is a huge wake-up call for Unionism.
“The Ulster Unionist Party has always been a pro-active, problem solving party, committed to making the institutions of Government here work for the benefit of all. We believe in the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. More than that we believe in the union of people within the United Kingdom; where everyone is equal regardless of their faith, sexuality, culture or identity.
“The DUP was founded to advance Ian Paisley’s political ambitions. It was never about the greater betterment of Unionism or all the people living in Northern Ireland. The extreme religious dogma that has characterised the DUP since its formation, remains in its DNA to this day, as everyone can clearly see.
“The DUP’s leadership of Unionism since 2003 has been nothing short of disastrous. The changes it made to the Belfast Agreement at St Andrews, driven purely by short-term electoral ambition, which meant the First Minister could only come from the largest party, not the largest designation as defined in the Belfast Agreement, has created unforgivable polarisation of politics here like never before. It is truly shameful.
“Whilst commanding the lead position in Unionism, their failure along with Sinn Fein to modernise and reform the Executive system of Government from mandatory coalition to a new form of cross community, voluntary coalition, again fuelled by short-term power grab politics, has also caused enormous damage to the operation and credibility of devolved Government here. And as for their mismanagement of RHI, the book has been written and the inquiry held – yet another disaster.
“But none of these calamities come anywhere close to their catastrophic mishandling of the Brexit negotiations – the outworking of which through the Northern Ireland Protocol means, as a Party, the DUP has caused more political harm to the Union than Sinn Fein and the IRA ever did.
“The political ideology of the DUP has always been about short-term tactics and never about what is realistic, strategic or achievable for Unionism and Northern Ireland.
“To those voters who left the UUP to support the DUP, our message is clear - the Ulster Unionist Party is the Party to lead Unionism and we will reach out to any who wish to re-join us with our vision as the Party that founded the state of Northern Ireland. We are the Party that negotiated the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, that gave Unionism the constitutional safeguards, that ironically, the DUP now cling to because of their incompetent negotiating around Brexit.
“The Ulster Unionist Party will give the leadership that is needed to fix the problems caused by the DUP and the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“We are now at a defining moment for Unionism. What is important now, is where we go from here.“My message is clear, in our centenary year, we urge Unionists across Northern Ireland to support and join the UUP to get our country and Unionism back on track.”