Sir Jeffrey Donaldson denies ever approaching the Ulster Unionists with the intention to rejoin his old party

He rejected questions raised on The Nolan Show if he made overtures to leave the Democratic Unionist Party for the UUP.

The programme claimed that Sir Jeffrey held the talks with the UUP after he had been defeated in the DUP leadership contest in May, which saw Edwin Poots take over the party for a period of just three weeks.

In a tweet just before the programme was broadcast, the DUP leader wrote: "This evening the BBC asked me if I had a discussion about leaving the DUP&re-joining the UUP after the DUP leadership election in May 20021. This portrayal is nonsense. I never had any such intensions or plans.

At that time, I was approached, and made it clear I would be welcome in the UUP but I respectfully declined. Any discussions I have had with the UUP focused on the future of unionism and need for closer cooperation."

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

The UUP tonight declined to comment on the allegations stating that the party would not do so in respect for the memory of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford.

TUV leader Jim Allister told the Nolan Show that questions had to be answered about what was discussed and who initiated the discussions.

He said: “If it were to turn out that Sir Jeffrey contemplated rejoining the Ulster Unionist Party then that would be a very big shock to many rank and file DUP members.

“If you join a party, you show loyalty to the party and the leader and you expect that to be reciprocated.

“If there was contemplation of leaving that party then that would cause great discomfort among the rank and file supporters.”

These latest revelations mark ten months of political turbulence that has rocked the DUP to its foundations.

At the end of April last year Edwin Poots toppled First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster from her throne. Mr Poots and his supporters had accused her of being too soft on Sinn Fein. They cited a series of opinion polls that saw the DUP shipping support.

The Co.Antrim farmer however faced a seemingly insurmountable barrier in his bid to take over the party his father was one of the founders of with Ian Paisley back in the early 1970s - Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

The Lagan Valley had been the bookies and the pundit’s favourite to win the contest but Mr Poots scraped home by the narrowest of margins.

On May 14th he defeated Sir Jeffrey by 19 votes to 17 in the vote carried by the DUP’s own internal electoral college, which had 36 members of party officers. It was the first time there had ever been a leadership contest within the DUP but it wouldn’t be long before a second one was visited upon the party faithful.

Following his victory Mr Poots posted a video on social media stating that he was convinced that “Northern Ireland's best days lie ahead". Little did the Lagan Valley MLA know that his own days as party leader would be numbered.

Sir Jeffrey’s supporters never accepted the outcome and seized their chance after early disquiet over Mr Poots’ handling of the party. The rebellion against the Poots leadership was sparked by his decision to accept a British Government ultimatum that Westminster would impose an Irish Language Act on the Province from London. Mr Poots agreed to a deal that would save devolution by winning Sinn Fein support for a DUP First Minister.

His willingness to go along with this new deal drawn up by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis provided the ammunition for Mr Poots’ critics still smarting from Sir Jeffrey’s defeat in May to strike.

DUP MPs led the charge in June and eventually forced Edwin Poots’ resignation from the leadership post. The second leadership contest in the DUP’s history turned into another coup with Mr Poots stepping down and Sir Jeffrey emerging as the only candidate in the contest. He was later endorsed by 32 votes of the 38 electoral college making Sir Jeffrey the fifth DUP leader in the party’s 50-year plus history.