Mike Nesbitt says John McCallister unity remark 'wrong'
The Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has said his former deputy was 'wrong' to say the party was walking blindly into unionist unity with the DUP.
On Monday Mr Nesbitt sacked John McCallister over the comments, made in a speech on Saturday.
"John talked of the Ulster unionist party walking blindly into unionist unity. That is not the case," said Mr Nesbitt.
He said the timing of the remarks was "highly regrettable."
"To do it at a time when we were celebraitng the centenary of Ulster's solemn oath and Covenant was wrong."Replacement
Mr Nesbitt broke his silence after the sacking of Mr McCallister as Ulster Unionist deputy leader had been described as "brutal" by a party colleague.
In the address that he made on Saturday - to mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant - Mr McCallister said recent shared commemorations, shared events and shared statements gave the impression that the unity train "had left the station".
In a BBC interview afterwards, the South Down MLA denied this was an attack on Mr Nesbitt's leadership, insisting he was focussing on the perception of a shift towards unity.
However, Mr Nesbitt responded swiftly by stripping Mr McCallister of his deputy leader's job and reviewing whether the party needed to appoint a replacement.
When the pair contested the UUP leadership in March, Mr Nesbitt beat Mr McCallister by a wide margin, winning by 536 votes to 129.