Christopher Stalford: ‘I hope Arlene and I can still be friends’

The first DUP assembly member to voice support for the Edwin Poots’ leadership bid hopes his friendship with Arlene Foster will survive the coup.

Sunday, 16th May 2021, 2:06 pm
Updated Monday, 17th May 2021, 9:34 am

South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford had been viewed as one of Mrs Foster’s most loyal allies prior to a number of DUP elected representatives combining to force her removal.

Mr Stalford said it was a “very difficult” decision for him personally, and that he had not spoken to the outgoing leader since he bid to install a new leader was launched.

Two candidates for party leader entered the race with Mr Poots defeated Sir Jeffrey Donaldson by 19 votes to 17.

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DUP MLA for Belfast South, Christopher Stalford. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Asked on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show yesterday if it was likely he could still count Mrs Foster among his friends, Mr Stalford said: “I hope so. I know that people say there are no friends in politics but that is a myth, that is not true.

“We are all good comrades – we are all Democratic Unionists together and I hope is the spirit in which we can take the party forward.”

When asked if he had spoken directly to Mrs Foster since taking part in the coup that unseated her from the party leadership, he replied: “No.”

Host Mark Carruthers said both Edwin Poots and new deputy leader Paula Bradley had declined the invitation to appear on the programme, and asked Mr Stalford to explain his switch from being an Arlene Foster supporting “moderniser within the DUP,” to backing Mr Poots.

First Minister and outgoing DUP leader Arlene Foster. Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

“I think it’s unfair to characterise Edwin as anything other than a moderniser in the party,” Mr Stalford said.

“I think that what he outlined was a positive vision for reform, in terms of trying to reconnect the party into the communities that we represent.

“In terms of Arlene, Arlene is my friend I have always been very, very supportive or Arlene. I just felt that it was time for a change, and that the party needed to change.

“It was very difficult for me personally, but I just felt that we were heading in a direction that I didn’t want us to go, and that it was time for a change at the top.

“I’m really glad that colleagues have rallied around Edwin’s positive vision for the party and for the country.”