Foster to step aside next Tuesday if Poots names new front bench

·5-min read

Arlene Foster will step aside as Northern Ireland’s First Minister next Tuesday – if the new DUP leader Edwin Poots names his frontbench team.

Friday marked the end of Mrs Foster’s tenure at the helm of the DUP, following the election and ratification of Mr Poots as her successor.

However she previously said she would stay on as First Minister until the end of June.

On a visit to Banbridge Academy on Friday, Mrs Foster said if Mr Poots names his ministers on Tuesday, she will go, adding she has worked closely with her ministerial team.

She said she will also quit the DUP.

Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots has said he will focus on leading the DUP (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Poots said it is for her to decide when she vacates the post, adding he will not be pushed into moving before he is ready.

The Agriculture Minister has said he will not take up the post of First Minister, and will instead focus on leading the DUP.

MLAs Mervyn Storey and Paul Givan have been rumoured to be in consideration for the post.

Mr Poots denied his party is divided, despite stormy exchanges at a meeting on Thursday of members to ratify his election as leader.

He said the DUP went through its first electoral contest for leader and that passion was inevitable.

Democratic Unionist Party meets to ratify new leader
DUP member Paul Bell announces his resignation (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We will move forward in a united way,” he said.

Mrs Foster and several senior figures, including Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson and Diane Dodds, left the building before Mr Poots rose to give his speech.

Paul Bell, a DUP member of 20 years from Mrs Foster’s Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, resigned from the party over its treatment of her.

He hit out at those who ousted Mrs Foster, and warned the party stands to lose thousands of votes at the next election.

Mr Poots said he had a “good conversation” with Mr Bell on Friday.

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“Sometimes people do things in haste but I had a good conversation with him this morning and I would love for him to stay in the party. He has made a good contribution over 20 years in the party,” he said.

“I am reaching out the hand to others who maybe aren’t happy about the result of the contest, but there was a contest, it was fair, the outcome is clear, I have a task to do and I will do that task.”

Mr Poots spoke to the media as he returned to the Crown Plaza Hotel in south Belfast on Friday with deputy leader Paula Bradley for a meeting with Hospitality Ulster.

He said the meeting is to help ensure people in the sector can move forward from the coronavirus pandemic, with “sensible” rules around reopenings.

“One of that which has come up since the hotel reopened has been the issues around buffets, that to me is something which is critically important for a number of facilities to have that reopened,” he said.

He said the Northern Ireland Protocol and health service waiting lists are also high on his party’s priorities.

He described the waiting lists as unacceptable, and one of the things that needed focus.

Mr Poots narrowly defeated Sir Jeffrey earlier this month in the party’s first leadership contest.

In a speech following the ratification, he vowed to revive unionism and scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We will consistently roll back the objectional provisions of the Protocol, as we have been doing,” he said.

“That involves arguing our case forcefully and with conviction. It involves making Brussels and Dublin aware that the Protocol is intolerable and unworkable.

“Legal challenges are one correct tactic, but the guaranteed way of ridding ourselves of the divisive Protocol is through the Assembly.”

He added: “We will employ political tactics to continue the pressure, and let Dublin see that isn’t some hiccup, but rather something that has the worrying capacity to destabilise relationships that they have gained most from.”

Mr Poots said his challenge was to encourage supporters of unionism to get out and vote.

He also called for a “united unionist coalition” ahead of the next Assembly elections.

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Mr Poots said the only way of preventing a border poll and getting rid of the Protocol was by securing a Unionist majority at the next election.

In his speech, Mr Poots paid tribute to Mrs Foster’s leadership of the party.

He said: “Arlene is and will be regarded as one of the most foremost women and unionists in British politics.

“Irrespective of our differences in any issues that have brought us here this evening, she is admired by us all.”

Earlier this week, Mrs Foster said she still had not seen the reported letter of no confidence in her leadership.

DUP MP Ian Paisley said he understands the party chairman Lord Morrow has read the letter to her and told her the names who signed it.

“The process that the party has always adopted is that those letters are not shared with other people who have gone,” he said.

“My father never ever saw the requisition order that was signed against him. He accepted it because he accepted the good grace and standing of our party chairman.”

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