East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson endorses Sir Jeffrey in leadership battle
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has launched his bid to run for the DUP leadership.
News of the official challenge was made this morning on Sky News.
There are now two candidates confirmed in the race to succeed Arlene Foster, who announced last week that she was stepping down.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson has endorsed Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and expressed his “full support” for fellow MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to become the next leader of the DUP.
Sir Jeffrey confirmed he will run against Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots to replace Arlene Foster at the helm of the party.
He made his announcement at Mr Robinson’s constituency office on Monday, which Stormont Junior Minister Gordon Lyons attended.
Later Mr Robinson tweeted his backing for Sir Jeffrey.
“I’m delighted Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has announced he intends to stand as DUP party leader and as the leader of unionism on this our centenary day,” he said.
“As I discuss our vision for the future in the coming days with colleagues, he will have my full support.”
Mrs Foster announced her resignation last Wednesday amid reports three quarters of the party’s Assembly group wanted a leadership challenge.
Sir Jeffrey, 58, has been MP for Lagan Valley for 24 years and currently leads the DUP’s parliamentary team at Westminster.
And Mr Poots, 55, who also represents the Lagan Valley constituency, has been a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for 23 years.
Sir Jeffrey, the longstanding Lagan Valley MP said he would promote a positive strategy and values if elected, with a focus on building a shared future for everyone in Northern Ireland.
The party’s current Westminster leader also pledged meaningful reform within the DUP and said he would set clear policy directions on key challenges for unionism, such as Brexit’s contentious Northern Ireland Protocol.
His entry in the race to succeed the deposed Arlene Foster will mean the DUP is set for its first-ever leadership contest in its 50-year history.
Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots announced his candidature last week.
Sir Jeffrey announced his leadership bid at fellow MP Gavin Robinson’s constituency office in east Belfast on Monday morning, coinciding with the date viewed by many historians as the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland.
“I want to thank Arlene Foster for her service to our party, people and country,” he said.
“She led with great courage, conviction and a big heart for Northern Ireland. I wish Arlene and her family well for the future.
“Today, Northern Ireland enters its second century.
“I am convinced that in this new century, Northern Ireland’s best days are ahead of us.
“We want to build a shared future for Northern Ireland where everyone, regardless of their background, has a part to play in showing the world what we are truly capable of.
“Both making our full contribution, and enjoying the benefits, of being part of the United Kingdom.”
Sir Jeffrey will be seen as the moderate candidate against the more hard-line 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.
Making his pitch for the job, Sir Jeffrey added: “Our next century will be built on the politics of persuasion.
“This will need positive leadership, strategy and values. Strong. United. Focused.
“This will also require party structures capable of communicating clearly and consistently to appeal to voters; capable of working with a strong and growing team built around real partnership between representatives in our local councils, the Assembly and at Westminster; and capable of overcoming those that seek to abolish Northern Ireland.
“I will develop and swiftly implement an agreed programme of meaningful reform and clear policy direction on key challenges like the protocol.
“Our task is to not only make the case for the Union but to strengthen that Union in the years ahead.
“Our previous leaders have shown that when the DUP leads, Northern Ireland moves forward.
“We are not only elected members of a political party, we are the custodians of the Union.
“Let us take our next steps forward. Forward to a new century.”
A message from our editor: Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
Please consider purchasing a copy of the paper. You can also support trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription of the News Letter.