Edwin Poots is ratified as DUP leader as key figures leave meeting before speech
Edwin Poots has been officially ratified as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.
The Stormont Agriculture Minister narrowly defeated Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson earlier this month in the party’s first contest for leader.
Mr Poots was formally ratified in a meeting a Belfast hotel on Thursday evening.
One DUP source said this choice of Mr Poots was ratified by 72 votes to 28 by the party executive while another said the margin was comfortable. However, some observers were surprised by the need for such a ballot.
The BBC reported that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Nigel Dodds, Diane Dodds and Gavin Robinson all left the meeting before Mr Poots made his speech.
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, speaking on The View, played down any significant opposition to Mr Poots, but said he did not know why Mr Donaldson, Mr Dodds, Mrs Dodds and Mr Robinson left the meeting early.
Mr Wilson said: “It went on long because we’re a democratic party, we give people the opportunity to say what they want to say. Some of them say it sensibly, others say it a bit more sharper than others.
“People had an opportunity to say, they said it very forthrightly and it was all very amicable at the end of the day and a decision was made.”
He added: “I can’t speak for every individual. Some people will be unhappy with some changes that happen. All I can say is there was agreement at the end of the meeting as to who we should choose.
“Nobody was coerced into voting one way or another. They are all big boys and girls who can make up their own minds and gave their own say.”
Speaking at the event, Mr Poots said: “It’s a bit unreal to be perfectly honest.”
Outgoing leader Arlene Foster left before Mr Poots took to the stand to make his inaugural speech as leader, as did other senior figures including Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson, Diane Dodds and Gregory Campbell.
Mr Poots paid tribute to Ms Foster’s leadership of the party.
He said: “I want to take an opportunity also to pay tribute to my predecessor.
“I know that the last few weeks has been difficult for her, as they have been for all of us.
“But I can’t say honestly that no matter what background or place we come from, 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.
“She has made history, and her time in politics. I have no doubt she will go on to do even greater things. History will ultimately be kind to her in its final analysis. I wish her and her family well.”
It comes after the DUP Fermanagh and Tyrone Association released a statement expressing its “disgust” at the treatment of outgoing leader Mrs Foster.
Mrs Foster announced her resignation as First Minister and DUP leader last month following an internal revolt against her leadership.
Four weeks on, Mrs Foster this week said she has still not had sight of a letter reportedly signed by party colleagues asking her to step aside.
Fermanagh and Tyrone DUP Association posted a statement on its Facebook page – shared by MP Gavin Robinson – which stated the treatment of Mrs Foster “was not done in our name” and pledged to “stand firm by her side”.
Mrs Foster said she would step down as DUP leader on Friday and as First Minister at the end of June.
Mr Poots has signalled that he will become the first DUP leader not to take the First Minister position at Stormont, and will instead nominate a colleague in order to focus on the job of leading the party.
MLAs Mervyn Storey and Paul Givan are reportedly being considered for the post.