Mike Nesbitt confirms UUP are going into Opposition

Mike Nesbitt has just told the Assembly that the UUP will be a part of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s first official opposition.

He has told MLAs that his Assembly group unanimously backed the move and concluded with the words “let the battle commence”

Full statement from Mike Nesbitt;

“We asked for a mandate to enter the talks on the next Programme for Government, promising that if either of our two tests were not met, we would form an Official Opposition.

“Those tests were whether it was a progressive Programme and secondly, whether we sensed a will from the DUP and Sinn Féin to lead collective delivery.

“On Tuesday, it became clear the Programme for Government will not be finalised until the end of the year, seven months away. On that basis, our primary test of whether it is a progressive Programme for Government, has failed.

“Our second test was whether we sensed a will to collectively deliver the Programme and that has also failed, as it is clear the DUP and Sinn Féin will retain joint ownership of the Programme for Government.

“Given the evidence that little is about to change, and we face another five years of DUP / Sinn Féin carve up and mutual veto, we are convinced the right thing to do for the country is to forego our entitlements in government and establish an Official Opposition, to both scrutinise the work of the next Executive and offer the electorate something different next time around.

“The decision to go into Opposition was taken unanimously by the Ulster Unionist Assembly Group earlier today.

“This heralds a new era for devolved politics at Stormont, and a big, bold step forward to normal democracy for Northern Ireland.”

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

  • mickfealty

    That may clarify things for the SDLP too…

  • Msiegnaro

    This is a good move from the UUP, however after their poor performance during the recent election left them with little option as the position of criticising a government they were a part of was absurd.

    This is not the only example of mismanagement within the party, there were issues with the selection in East Londonderry and FST, a UUP MLA’s aid standing against them as an independent whilst still being employed by the UUP along with a confused position on the activity of the IRA it remains to be seen if Nesbitt can deliver the UUP to their former glory.

  • No Education portfolio for the UUP. The decision lies with DUP …

  • chrisjones2

    Now its for the Stoops to decide. Do the join them and play a realm role in the development of politics or spend the next 5 years in the wilderness

  • Gopher

    Should have declared before the election, if the SDLP stay now they are finished. With the rest of the minor parties the UUP can not vote down SF on any issue, If the SDLP go into opposition it will be possible to vote down the DUP, meaning SF and DUP are stuck with each other.

  • “On Tuesday, it became clear the Programme for Government will not be finalised until the end of the year, seven months away.”

    That would seem to be a key point about the current ‘negotiations’.


    We asked for a mandate to enter the talks on the next Programme for Government, promising that if either of our two tests were not met, we would form an Official Opposition.

    Well, a pretend Official Opposition…

    …we are convinced the right thing to do for the country is to forego our entitlements in government and establish an Official Opposition, to both scrutinise the work of the next Executive and offer the electorate something different next time around. [added emphasis]

    Good luck with that. And with convincing other subsequently elected parties to forgo their “entitlements in government”…

  • The overall timetable for PfG with its consultation windows has always been known. That was clear months ago, not just on Tuesday.

    It may be a ‘bold’ decision – and the right one – but it also smacks of being opportunistic in its timing and certainly no example of evidence-based policy making waiting to assess the actual PfG proposals. Hard to see how UUP ever saw it possible to take Education Ministry.

  • Dominic Hendron

    Fair play to Mike,hope SDLP and Alliance follow

  • mjh

    The UUP have nothing to lose by this decision. It gives them the chance to play the game differently – which they desperately need.

    It would be tempting for them to hope that the SDLP and Alliance join the Executive – leaving them in sole occupancy of the Opposition role. But that would be a mistake. While sole Opposition could be useful for them, a full alternative coalition to the DUP/SF coalition could be a real game changer.

  • Granni Trixie

    I don’t.

  • mjh

    Their timing is spot on.

    If they are going to make Opposition work for them they have to be seen to be decisive, bold, interesting and determined.

    Sitting around for seven months, no matter how well known the timetable was, would look indecisive, weak, unambitious and lacking in any will to change the sort of thinking that can accept that seven month, SEVEN MONTHS, is an appropriate length of time to spend thinking about what the government should be getting on with.

  • fralycis

    Great to see an official opposition at last!

    But, as things stand in terms of d’Hondt ministerial allocation, if my workings are correct, now things are slightly more clarified:
    1) First five picks are definitely going DUP – SF – DUP – SF – DUP
    2) DUP will now automatically have 4 ministerial seats by right (rather than 3).
    3) As things stand, SDLP will now get 6th pick rather than being landed with the final 7th pick from what’s left.
    4) There will be a 4-3 Unionist vs Nationalist majority on the Executive (and will not change even if SDLP join UUP in opposition.)

    Obviously, have not factored in Alliance’s first refusal at taking the Justice portfolio.

    The SDLP have a very interesting predicament on their shoulders now…

  • Daragh

    SDLP were always going into opposition anyway. Its the only logical step for either of them. Mike has announced this fact quickest is all.

  • Msiegnaro

    How can this be declared before the election when Mike went in to win it?

  • Pete

    Sensible decision, I think, from the UUP’s perspective.

    If they want to try to gain seats etc in the future, they need to be standing apart from the DUP.

  • Mirrorballman

    Have the UUP council forced Mike into this? During the campaign it became quite obvious he fancied himself as Education minister..

  • Msiegnaro

    I think you misread the signals and they were there before the election, just remove the last three words and you’re there.

  • Msiegnaro

    I think the Alliance party plan to look active by flooding the Executive with Private Member bills following the success of Allister, McCallister and Agnew during the last term.

  • Nevin

    Did any of the ‘evidence-based policy makers’ stand for election?

  • Skibo

    I think Mike has actually stolen a lead on SDLP by declaring first. The SDLP would have been much more aware of the PFG as they have been in the executive before the election. UU would have only got the programme last week.

  • Dominic Hendron

    People need an alternative and the SDLP and UUP can best provide it, they will work together better than SF/DUP. Politics has to change here.

  • Nevin

    The electorate likes parties that are strong on the constitutional question and that provide a good local constituency service. The UUP displays less grit than the DUP and TUV and a poorish constituency service compared to the DUP.

  • the rich get richer

    Hurrah ! SF/DUP badly need an opposition to waken them up.

    SF particularly need to smarten their act up.

    Hopefully the Sdlp and even Alliance also take up the challenge.

  • Skibo

    It will be very interesting and possibly a game changer if SF/DUP have to carve up the Justice ministry.

  • Teddybear

    If the UUP are in opposition then they’ve shot themselves in the foot of they try to arrange an agreed unionist candidate for Westmister in 2020

    They can’t oppose a party in Stormont one day only to ask the electorate to vote for an arrangement with the DUP the next.

  • Msiegnaro

    Yes they can just as they did before although SF have outlined they will be taking back FST and this time for good.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I hope Mike moves quickly to appoint shadow ministers in respect of the nine departments. There is an opportunity to get ahead of the game here before the executive ministers are appointed. Each shadow minister should be a member of her/his department’s statutory committee so it important that shadow ministers are known before appointments to the committees occurs. Mike should also set a deadline for other parties to join the opposition in order to be considered for shadow ministerial posts. He should work hard to encourage a strong opposition to ensure there is sufficient talent available from which to choose the shadow ministers.

  • ted hagan

    Alliance won’t have the balls but fair play to Nesbitt fot a bold move.

  • AMORR86

    Im a bit confused about the Alliance position on this. I have heard that only parties which would otherwise have been able to enter the Executive by D’hondt would be able to join an opposition. Would this then bar Alliance from joining UUP in opposition? Perhaps someone can clear that up for me?

  • mjh

    The only Westminster seat they won as a result of an agreed candidate was FST. It’s hard to see the DUP putting up a candidate against Elliott and handing the seat to SF.

  • mjh

    Since the UUP have declined to join the Executive they will no longer count in the D’hondt arithmetic. That means that Alliance now qualify for an Executive place with their 8 MLA’s.

    There appears to be no legal bar to Alliance fully participating in the Opposition.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The sdlp would be best served by taking time to show they are actually to make a PfG work before going into opposition. UUPs move is opportunistic but my sense is that unionists will like this. Nationalists will want to see the SDLP try to make it work first

  • Msiegnaro

    Just listening to Colum Eastwood, he seems to be completely flat-footed by today’s events.

  • Katyusha

    It does appear to be in complete contradiction to the SDLP’s overtures to the Greens and PBP. It won’t look good for Eastwood if the UUP are able to provide an effective opposition while the SDLP plays a bit-part in the administration with DUP/SF calling the tune. The pressure will be on the SDLP to follow suit, but it will be something of a u-turn at this moment. And it doesn’t look as if anyone is interested in the SDLP’s advances. It could backfire on them.

  • Katyusha

    So how is an opposition supposed to work in NI, anyway?
    Do we have a shadow cabinet like in GB?
    How would roles for shadow ministries be split up? Some kind of replica d’Hondt process amongst the opposition parties? If the SDLP decided to join the UUP in opposition, is there a mirror of the mandatory coalition rules/powersharing? If alliance join them, would they also be part of this power sharing split or does it not need to run in a binary unionist/neutral scenario?
    This could get interesting. Dangerous words, I know.

  • Brendan Heading

    We are into uncharted territory now which makes things interesting. I think that a bit of uncharted territory is what we need at this point. But that’s all this is at the moment – a shot in the dark, in the hope it improves things.

    A lot of people are going to be disappointed by the outcome of all this. I see a lot of “great, there’s an opposition, now things will get better” type comments from people (and I’m hearing it from less political family members, friends etc). We seem to have a tendency around these parts to place our faith in silver bullets. Being a shadow minister means nothing if you lack the capability to challenge the government. Will Mike and his cohorts be any better at challenging the DUP/SF government than Jeremy Corbyn is at challenging the Tories ?

  • Brendan Heading

    he did, but it’s clear that either the DUP or SF will take this ministry before the UUP get their pick. I’d speculate that the two big parties probably told the other executive parties which departments they planned to select at their meeting earlier this week.

  • Brendan Heading

    Especially when you consider that the sixth or seventh pick will probably be the Department of Health, where the implementation of a very difficult reform programme is in the offing. If it were a game of rugby, this would be a hospital pass.

  • Brendan Heading

    I’m not sure that it does – even if the SDLP also withdraw.

    Note that if Alliance go for Justice again, this is treated as a d’Hondt seat for the purposes of allocating the other departments.

  • Dessie

    A very good decision by Mike and the UUP. If they joined the executive they would continue to be sidelined and suffer at the polls in future.

    UUP should now put a deadline to for a programme for opposition or something to that effect and invite all parties (except DUP/SF obviously) and from whoever wants to be involved put together a shadow executive.

    They need to be on the ball and get this done ASAP and begin to put pressure on immediately

  • Declan Doyle

    This is becoming an exciting time for Northern Politics. While many might feel that the opposition option is no big deal; it does deliver us into the realm of unknown unknowns in terms of how it works and what the consequences might be. Fair play to Nesbitt, he is determined to force change.

  • Gopher

    By stating they would only enter government if they were the 1st or 2nd biggest parties

  • barnshee

    “If it were a game of rugby, this would be a hospital pass.” and a deliberate one at that -more and more the decisions are passed to the big two . The tighter budgets -the inevitable balls ups will then be the sole responsibility of the AFM big two.
    Overall a sound move

  • Gopher

    The most interesting move would be for Alliance to join the UUP in opposition making it a majority nationalist government. Arlene Foster leading a minority government who would have thought it.

  • Granni Trixie

    Good for the children of NI given UUP educationally unsound manifesto ideas for education.

  • eamoncorbett

    They can you know , and they would , remember the Unionist mantra ; The union is safe / There has never been a greater threat to the union. Both these slogans are interchangeable .

  • fralycis

    Interestingly, I would assume that DUP (and the wider public) would still be relatively content to take the Health portfolio, especially if DUP/SF share more in common in these PfG talks.

    However, I would make a prediction that the newly-formed Department for Infrastructure will be a second poisoned chalice. The department takes on the burden the previous department (DRD)’s problems and lack of funding. Major road upgrades/transport projects need carried through this Assembly term. The SDLP might want to think twice about this, especially when voters will be expecting the party to make a case for the electorate to continue voting for them in 2021 (with the loss of sixth seats etc…)

    All this assuming that Agriculture and Communities will be snapped up by the DUP and SF for picks 4 and 5 in the allocation.

  • aquifer

    But Nesbitt has cottoned onto the ethnic outbidding game played by Paisley. Despicably sectarian but consistent with UUP OO links.

    And looking at history, Molyneaux, Trimble, etc the DUP have some payback coming.

    No prospect of a SDLP UUP accomodation though with such sectarian strutting.

    Alliance may make headway with a law and order position and a crackdown on paramilitary alphabet soupery.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    More Toilet Paper for the Cartel !

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Agree Brendan and this is what tipped it for Mike and the UUP. But a good call by the UUP, good to see at long last we are heading to a normal democratic government with opposition. Hopefully this will revigorate 45% of an electoral out there who are not voting. Good day for NI plc

  • Jag

    After the immense disappointment in last week’s election, I suppose the title “Leader of the Opposition” will be some consolation to Mike TV.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “but it also smacks of being opportunistic” The game of Politics is Taking the Opportunity against your opponent. Very good call and correct timing !

  • mjh

    OK correct me if I am wrong.

    To make things easier assume for a moment that Justice goes to someone other than Alliance, SF, SDLP, DUP (or UUP since it is in Opposition).

    Seven Departments remain for allocation under d’Hondt.

    d’Hondt gives each party a number of tokens equivalent to the number of seats it won. Each time a party picks a Department it loses half of its tokens. The party with the most tokens picks first, then the party with the next highest number, and so on.

    Pick 1: DUP with 38 tokens. It now has only 19 tokens left.
    Pick 2: SF with 28. Now 14 tokens left.
    Pick 3: DUP with 19. Now 9.5 tokens left.
    Pick 4: SF with 14. Now 7 tokens left.
    Pick 5: SDLP with 12. Now 6 tokens left.
    Pick 6: DUP with 9.5 tokens. Now 4.75 tokens left.
    Pick 7: Alliance with 8 tokens.

    Game over.

    So Alliance have an Executive place of right even if they do not take Justice. Under the rules this means they also have a right to be part of an Opposition.

    (If any of the four participating parties is elected to Justice they lose half of their tokens before the other seven departments are picked.)

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Yeah Gopher – That Poker Card Trick the DUP played – “Vote for Us or else you will have them” Egg on Face Time !

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Good move but they now need to follow it up with on the ground grassroots activities. They seriously need to look at their branch structures especially in Belfast. I would work with other sympathetic political groups in the streets to attack getting out to vote again 45% of the electoral who have lost faith in the political process. They have 3 years to hit the ground now before Local Government Elections.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Back to 11 Plus Exam Again ?

  • Ciaran O’Connor

    Bar self-immolation I don’t think there’s anything Mike might not try in an attempt to return the UUP to some sort of position of relevance. The UUP are yesterdays boys and girls. Any relative “talent” they had jumped ship and now sits on the DUP benches.

    I don’t think any of us will be forgetting real soon that the Ulster Unionist Party are THE political entity responsible for the troubles, the plague on both our houses and the sectarian cancer that cripples the Northern Ireland state to this day.

  • Brendan Heading

    I’m not sure I follow your logic.

    Whoever takes on Health is almost certainly going to have to announce a hospital closure within the next two years. This is on top of a bunch of other problems that are proving very difficult to solve. Health is probably the most difficult portfolio there is, and this is why it normally gets picked last or next to last.

    Taking on Infrastructure department isn’t the same. Water might prove to be an issue, but no roads are going to get closed. The worst that could happen is that some longer term capital projects might get scaled back. Other than these I’m not sure what “problems” you are referring to. The existing road infrastructure here is in good physical condition. We don’t have a legacy of unmaintained collapsing bridges to deal with, for example.

  • Dessie

    Every party needs to get that 45% out and I’m sure some of them have tried to get it already, with no success.

    What do you think would need to be done to motivate those people to get out and vote?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I would first use my party activists and go door to door and ask people did they vote. If not I would ask them to give 3 reasons why they did not. Review the responses come up with a strategy and go back to them to see if this will help bring them out to vote.

  • Dessie

    It’s not a bad idea but I doubt it can be done by any party. No party has enough activists to go round around 30,000 people (not including those unregistered).

    It would get some people out but it would only be a small number. I think the main thing would be education and engagement at school. If you go up to anyone in the street and ask how our political institutions work the vast majority wouldn’t be able to tell you. This could be one of the reasons for the current apathy.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Yes agree Dessie too much for any one party to do by itself but each party branch could focus on particular districts they wish to target in a door-to-door campaign.
    Definitely agree about education and engagement at schools, I would even target social media which all young people use today.
    Political Parties need to reconnect again and ask why people are not voting

  • fralycis

    Firstly, I think that after Eastwood’s statements on aiming to de-politicise health, his party will look cowardly (DUP and SF also guilty) if they leave Health to last. The general public will notice this and medical staff equally. I definitely agree with you that even if they do negotiate £1billion extra for the budget, tough decision will still need to be made.

    My point RE infrastructure is that these longer term projects have already been significantly delayed (just ask anyone in the Foyle and West Tyrone constituencies) and with someone like Eamon McCann now questioning in the Assembly chambers, he will certainly be providing the pressure on the Executive (especially regarding the A5, Magee funding, railways, airport funding). DRD had been consistently under-delivering for the majority of the last Assembly term and yes, water is going to become more and more a big issue and funding will be needed to support an ageing system.

    As I say, Health is going to have to suffer really tough cuts to frontline services (and no minister wants to be responsible for that), and this d’Hondt game of dodgeball and story spinning shall be a spectacle to follow.

  • Brendan Heading

    Saying “let’s take the politics out of health”, as Eastwood did (and as a few others have) is just a cliché. Health is a fundamentally political issue everywhere in the world and plays a significant role in the overall political debate on almost every country. This is because extending people’s lives towards infinity with diminishing returns is a fundamentally political problem that can never be fully solved.

    “cowardice” is what it may be, but voters seldom reward courage and sacrifice in office. It’s no good entering government to commit political suicide if there’s nothing whatsoever you can take back from it.

    Eamonn McCann can ask all the questions he wants. Foyle and West Tyrone are but two constituencies out of 18, and are unlikely to significantly change how they vote over a few roadbuilding projects. All those lost SDLP votes are not going to come back if an SDLP minister green-lights a road.

  • barnshee

    “don’t think any of us will be forgetting real soon that the Ulster Unionist Party are THE political entity responsible for the troubles, the plague on both our houses and the sectarian cancer that cripples the Northern Ireland state to this day.”

    I suggest you widen your seach for the cancer eg




    The list is endless

  • barnshee

    ” Will Mike and his cohorts be any better at challenging the DUP/SF government than Jeremy Corbyn is at challenging the Tories ?”

    They can on;y squabble over the crumbs from the UK taxpayer They (like the scot nat)s will not have the balls to use tax raising powers (local rates excepted) of their own

  • Ciaran O’Connor

    The UUP had 50+ unfettered years in complete single party control of Northern Ireland and what did they do with that time and free hand? Well we all know. The Northern Ireland they created could have been a relative Utopia. Instead they created a living hell for many people. To find responsibility you have to understand who had the POWER to create the monster. In Northern Ireland for 50+ years Irish people were powerless. The ONE piece of legislation Irish people got through Stormont in all those years was something to do with the protection of ducks, forsooth. The UUP had the power. They are responsible and culpable to this day.