Arlene Foster’s time as DUP leader coming to an end as 75% of her MLAs sign letter of no confidence

After more than five turbulent years as DUP leader, Arlene Foster’s time at the helm of Northern Ireland’s biggest party appears to be close to an end after 75% of her MLAs signed a letter calling for a leadership contest.

Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 7:12 am

Multiple DUP sources have told the News Letter that a clear majority of DUP MLAs, as well as at least half the party’s MPs and some of its peers have put their names to what is effectively a letter of no confidence in Mrs Foster.

Some DUP politicians have said that the letter was sent to party chairman Lord Morrow last night, while other sources say that it has not yet been formally submitted but Mrs Foster has been alerted to what is coming.

The News Letter has not seen the letter but one of those who has signed it said that there were 21 MLAs, four MPs and at least one peer’s name on the correspondence.

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Arlene Foster's time as DUP leader appears to be close to an end. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty

He said that it was a “pointed message” to Mrs Foster that it was time for a new leader

The prominent DUP politician said that there will now be an emergency meeting of the party officers to put in place a leadership election.

The DUP had never had a formal internal challenge to the leadership before and so the rules are opaque to outsiders.

However, some party sources said that the electoral college which will vote on the leadership will comprise the party’s MLAs, MPs and peers – 41 politicians in total. Others suggested that the five peers will not form part of the electoral college.

Based on the lowest number of those said to have signed the letter, 25 of that electoral college have backed a leadership contest.

Referring to the scale of the opposition to Mrs Foster’s leadership, the signatory to the letter who spoke to the News Letter said: “There’s no way that she can see that off.”

The source said that unionism was “crying out for leadership” and the party needs a “clear direction” after a period of drift and U-turns on key issues.

The News Letter has not seen the letter but another signatory to the letter said that the wording used amounted to “very clearly” saying that “we have no faith in the leadership”.

Another DUP source said they believed there were 20 names on the letter, while another said they believed the figure was 23 – each of which represents a clear majority of the DUP’s 28 MLAs (one of whom, Jim Wells, no longer has the party whip).

Mrs Foster did not respond to calls. However, in a statement just after 5pm the DUP did not dispute the letter and alluded to internal “electoral proceses”.

It said: “The Democratic Unionist Party conducts its business in accordance with its constitution and rules.

“The officers of the party oversee the conduct and organisation of its internal democratic electoral processes.

“Whilst understanding that there will be from time-to-time public interest in party processes, these issues, in the first instance, are matters for members of the party and we are not able to make any further comment at this time.”

This morning the News Letter revealed that Mrs Foster was facing “open revolt” in which multiple DUP constituency associations have written to the leadership and councillors were threatening to resign.

Several DUP members said that Mrs Foster was losing the support of some of those who until now had been loyal to her.

One senior DUP politician said there “most definitely is unrest” and “major problems” within the party.

Mr Wells, who is estranged from the leadership, said that the two catalysts for longstanding unease at Mrs Foster’s leadership coming to a head were last week’s vote to ban gay conversion therapy – in which Mrs Foster and two of her ministers abstained – and Diane Dodds’s attendance at the north-south ministerial meeting, despite a belief in the party that such meetings were being boycotted because of the Irish Sea border.

Earlier today Mrs Foster played down suggestions her leadership was under threat.

When asked by the Press Association if her leadership was in question, she said: “Stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it’s one of those times.

“So we’ll just deal with it and move on because I’ve bigger things to do, including getting us through this Covid pandemic, including listening to the concerns of working-class communities.

“These stories come up from time to time. This is no different.

“I haven’t received any letters from constituency associations so I’m not going to get into a running commentary on these issues, they come up from time to time. I think it’s important to note that there is the big job of work to do. We have a year left of this mandate.

“It’s important that we lift our eyes and continue the work of rolling out of the restrictions, deal with the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

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