Edwin Poots ‘to turn down role as first minister if leadership bid succeeds’

DUP minister Edwin Poots has plans to split the roles of party leader and Northern Ireland first minister if he is elected to the top job, it has been reported.

Sunday, 2nd May 2021, 2:04 pm

Mr Poots, who is in the running to succeed Arlene Foster as party leader, is expected to turn down the first minister’s role if his leadership campaign succeeds.

In a statement to the Sunday Life, a spokesman for the Agriculture minister confirmed his intention to appoint a DUP colleague to the joint-head of government while he takes the reigns of the party.

The newspaper also reported Mr Poots has a plan in place for his first 90 days as leader.

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The plan is said to include “rebuilding the core and the foundation of the party”.

In a statement to the newspaper, a spokesman for Mr Poots said: “Edwin will split the roles of leader of the party and first minister.

“Edwin knows the job at hand and for that reason will split the roles.

“He will reshape the party for the future whilst putting in place a good team to work with him and the other parties in a five-party Executive, ensuring that people of Northern Ireland get the Government they need.

Edwin Poots, launching his leadership bid on Thursday.

“The policies of promoting the NHS and building our economy are central to the benefit of being part of the Union for all our people, no matter class, creed or gender.

“Together, we can make this work.”

It comes after Mr Poots’s campaign manager claimed he has received the endorsement of the majority of politicians who decide the next leader of the DUP.

The vote to choose who succeeds Mrs Foster is carried out by a small electorate, comprising only of the party’s elected representatives in Stormont and Westminster.

Paul Frew, who is Mr Poots’s campaign manager, claimed he has received the majority backing of their MLAs and MPs.

While Mr Poots remains unchallenged in his bid to become party leader, it is thought likely Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will announce his candidature in the coming days.

It is thought Sir Jeffrey will announce his leadership bid on Monday, coinciding with the centenary of Northern Ireland.

The pace at which the DUP moved to oust Mrs Foster came as a surprise to many, not least the outgoing party leader.

Discontent at the DUP’s Brexit strategy was a major factor in the move against her, with party rank-and-file laying some of the blame for the emergence of an Irish Sea border at her door.

Traditionalists from the party’s religious fundamentalist wing also harboured concerns over positions Mrs Foster has taken on some social issues.

Last month, Mrs Foster was one of five DUP assembly members who abstained on a vote calling for a ban on conversion therapy.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said Mrs Foster could “hardly be described as progressive” for abstaining on the motion.

“We know who the DUP are. The fact that Edwin Poots is the lead candidate, I think, speaks to who the DUP are at their core,” Ms Long told BBCNI The View programme.

“The fact that the push against Arlene Foster wasn’t as a result of progressives in the party feeling she hadn’t gone far enough, but those regressives in the party thinking she had gone too far, speaks volumes.

“So, irrespective of who the DUP picks as their leader, that leader will be constrained by the membership, and by the kind of policy positions that they’re going to take consistently.”

Ms Long also said the move to oust Mrs Foster by party colleagues was “callous”.

“It was wrong the way she was treated, but I think misogyny is at the base of it. I think there are those within her party who could not adjust to being led by a woman,” Ms Long added.

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said of the bid to remove Mrs Foster: “I felt very uncomfortable about it.

“I talked to Arlene and Wednesday night and while we have our political differences, I expressed my sympathies in the way it had been handled and the way it had been done.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “I think her dispatch was very brutal.

“Obviously I’ve had many disagreements with Arlene, but I’ve always found her straightforward and honourable in her dealings with me.

“I don’t think you could say that about the manner in which she was dispatched from the leadership of her party.”