Jeffrey Donaldson throws hat in the ring for DUP leadership

DUP faces first EVER leadership contest after Jeffrey Donaldson throws hat in the ring against hardline ‘creationist’ Edwin Poots – as ousted Arlene Foster refuses to say whom she backs

  • Arlene Foster was brutally deposed as leader of the DUP in a coup last week
  • Agriculture minister Edwin Poots has already thrown his hat into the ring for post
  • Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is also now declaring that he wants to succeed Mrs Foster 

The DUP is set for its first ever leadership contest after Sir Jeffrey Donaldson threw his hat into the ring to succeed Arlene Foster.

Sir Jeffrey, the party’s current Westminster leader, sent a letter to MPs and Assembly members this morning and is expected to make an official announcement later.

His entry in the race after Mrs Foster was brutally deposed means there will be no coronation of a new leader for the first time in the party’s 50-year history.

Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots – a creationist seen as a political hardliner who was involved in ousting Mrs Foster – announced his candidature last week.

Mrs Foster refused to say yesterday whom she will support in the battle, and also insisted she had no idea why she was forced out. 

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (right with Arlene Foster) is the DUP’s current Westminster leader and is expected to make an official announcement later

Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots – a creationist seen as a political hardliner who was involved in ousting Mrs Foster – announced his candidature last week

Sir Jeffrey will be seen as the moderate candidate against Mr Poots, who also represents the Lagan Valley constituency, as an Assembly member.

Mrs Foster resigned last week after an internal revolt against her leadership. The move came in the form of a letter of no confidence signed by a majority of the party’s senior elected representatives.

Mr Poots, understood to have been one of the key figures behind the heave against her, announced his leadership bid within 24 hours of Mrs Foster’s resignation statement.

The outgoing DUP leader will step down from that role on May 28, and as Stormont First Minister at the end of June.

A small electorate, comprising just the party’s MLAs and MPs, will decide the leadership contest.

Sir Jeffrey’s announcement coincide with the date viewed by many historians as the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland.

It emerged yesterday that Mr Poots would not take on the First Minister’s job if he was elected DUP leader, instead appointing an Assembly colleague to the role as he concentrates on the leadership.

If Sir Jeffrey won the leadership and remained as an MP at Westminster he would not be able take up the First Minister’s job.

Discontent at the DUP’s Brexit strategy was a major factor in the move against Mrs Foster, with party rank-and-file laying some of the blame for the emergence of an Irish Sea border at her door.

Traditionalists from the party’s religious fundamentalist wing also harboured concerns over positions Mrs Foster has taken on some social issues, in particular her decision to abstain in a recent Assembly vote on a proposed ban on gay conversion therapy – a proposal the majority of her party colleagues opposed.

Mrs Foster yesterday refused to give away whom she would like to see pick up the reins of the party.

‘Well of course the leadership election hasn’t started yet, the officers haven’t set out the plan as yet,’ she said.

‘So we’ll see who the choice is when the candidates come forward and then I’ll make my decision.’

Arlene Foster (pictured last week) has refused to say whom she will back for the leadership of the DUP 

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