Wilson denies undermining Foster’s leadership through pandemic
A veteran DUP MP has denied undermining Arlene Foster’s leadership through the pandemic.
Sammy Wilson criticised lockdown measures at various stages during the Covid-19 crisis and was also outspoken against face masks.
The East Antrim MP famously tweeted a photograph of himself in an ice cream shop in his constituency not wearing a mask, with the message: “You can’t eat ice cream when you’re muzzled!”
Mrs Foster was forced to publicly rebuke Mr Wilson on a number of occasions in the pandemic as she faced awkward questions at Executive media briefings about some of his comments and actions.
Reacting to her resignation, Mr Wilson denied he had undermined his leader as she tried to navigate Northern Ireland through the coronavirus crisis.
“It’s not being disloyal to any leader or it’s not undermining any leader to express a different point of view, I hear it every week in the House of Commons,” he said.
Mr Wilson told BBC Radio Ulster: “When I believed the restrictions were unnecessary I said they were unnecessary, when I thought that they were right I said they were right, that wasn’t in any way to undermine her.
“What it did was reflect, I reflected, I believe, what were the range of opinions in Northern Ireland.
“I didn’t accept and I didn’t support many of the decisions that were made by the Executive and I think if one looks at the damage which we’re now finding was done to people with health problems other than Covid, I think some of the things which I said about the obsession with Covid were correct and indeed many other people would believe that.”
Mr Wilson suggested Mrs Foster had faced “unfair criticism” and had been left “carrying the can” for the actions of others, both in relation to the pandemic and Brexit.
“She has now over the last number of years been carrying the can for things which were beyond her control, the Covid restrictions she has become the lightning rod for the criticism and the difficulties the Assembly have and the Executive had in making common cause,” he said.
I don't believe that we need to wash our internal affairs in public
“She has been blamed for, wrongly in my view, for the betrayal by Boris Johnson (over Brexit) and all of that has kind of built up the kind of opposition we’ve seen which has led to today’s events.”
Mr Wilson refused to confirm whether or not he had signed the letter of no confidence in Mrs Foster which was circulated among senior DUP politicians in recent days.
“As far as the letter’s concerned, the letter was an internal party document, and who signed it and who didn’t sign it, why they signed it and why they didn’t sign it I don’t think is something which is a public issue,” he said.
The MP added: “I don’t believe that we need to wash our internal affairs in public.”
He said the criticism Mrs Foster received from external sources had created unease within the party.
“Some people felt that we needed a change of leadership and maybe a new leader will not be able to escape from the kind of unfair criticism which has been attached to Arlene on this,” he said.