Sir Jeffrey Donaldson set to be endorsed as DUP leader

·3-min read

DUP MPs and Assembly members are set to formally endorse Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as their new leader later.

The party’s 36-strong electoral college is meeting in a Co Antrim hotel to rubber stamp the Lagan Valley MP’s ascent to the top job.

The gathering comes after a chaotic two months for Northern Ireland’s largest party.

Internal divisions have been laid bare after successive revolts deposed former leader Arlene Foster and her successor Edwin Poots.

Sir Jeffrey, the party’s 58-year-old Westminster leader, was the only candidate to put his name forward for the DUP leadership after the dramatic resignation of Mr Poots last week.

Mr Poots’ demise came only weeks after he narrowly defeated Sir Jeffrey in the leadership contest to succeed Mrs Foster.

Once he receives the endorsement of the electoral college, which is made up of 28 MLAs and eight MPs, Sir Jeffrey will become leader designate.

He will become the official party leader next week when the DUP’s ruling executive meets to ratify his appointment.

First and Deputy First Minister nomination
Edwin Poots leaves the DUP headquarters in Belfast after he said he will stand down as the party leader (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Poots’ resignation came after he pressed ahead with reconstituting Stormont’s powersharing Executive alongside Sinn Fein, despite a significant majority of his MPs and MLAs being vociferously opposed to the move.

Party anger at a UK Government pledge to grant Sinn Fein a key concession on Irish language laws was behind the internal opposition to Mr Poots’ decision to nominate a First Minister to lead the administration alongside the republican party.

Serious question marks now hang over the future of First Minister Paul Givan.

Sir Jeffrey has made clear his intent to return from Westminster to assume the First Minister’s job.

However, the timeline for that move remains unclear.

He would have to trigger a parliamentary by-election in Lagan Valley in order to re-enter the Assembly and it is unclear whether he would want to prompt such a contest in the near future, given the DUP’s recent poor poll ratings.

Arriving at the meeting, East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said he hoped Sir Jeffrey would bring some calm to the DUP.

“I think he will bring a sense of calm and map a way forward which we all have to engage in, bring everybody with us and unite the community and move on,” he said.

Mr Campbell, who backed Sir Jeffrey in the previous contest against Edwin Poots, declined to be drawn when asked whether he was a central figure in the move against Mr Poots.

“What’s done is done,” he said.

“Edwin and I are good friends and remain good friends, as I do with everybody in the party. And hopefully we’ll all move on.”

Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley, who was Mr Poots’ chief of staff in his brief tenure as leader, said he would support Sir Jeffrey when he takes the reins of the DUP.

“Whoever leads the DUP will have my support,” he said.

Arriving at the meeting, DUP MLA Jim Wells, who has lost the party whip, made pointed reference to the opposition Mr Poots faced in his short stint as leader.

“Whoever is elected today should have the full support of every DUP MLA and MP,” he said.

“Hopefully nobody will walk out early and no one will mount a guerrilla campaign against the successful candidate.”

He added: “It’s a tragedy that we’re here today. I don’t think Edwin Poots had the chance. I think Edwin Poots could have brought real purpose to this party. I believe he understood the ethos of this party and he had some great ideas to take the party forward to the next election and he just didn’t get a chance.”

Asked if he thought Mr Poots had been forced out by DUP party officers, Mr Wells said: “I think there’s a lot of truth in that.”

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson told reporters he hoped Sir Jeffrey would be a “unifying force” for the DUP.

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