‘Unanimous’ backing for Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as DUP leader

Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been officially ratified as leader of the DUP following a meeting of the party’s ruling executive in Belfast.

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 11:13 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st July 2021, 10:34 am

The party’s 130-strong executive met at the La Mon Hotel to approve the appointment of the new leader.

Sir Jeffrey, the party’s 58-year-old Westminster leader, was the only candidate to put his name forward for the DUP leadership after the dramatic resignation of Edwin Poots earlier this month.

Speaking after the meeting, Sir Jeffrey said that the ratification had been unanimous.

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at the La Mon hotel, Belfast, as the ruling executive of the DUP gathered to ratify Sir Jeffrey as the new party leader. Picture date: Wednesday June 30, 2021. PA image

He said: “There are many challenges ahead but I am confident now that the DUP will face those challenges together.

“I am confident that the party will now build towards the Assembly elections and I intend to work to ensure that once again the Democratic Unionist Party prevails in the election.”

At the weekend, the MP secured the majority backing of the DUP’s electoral college of party MPs and MLAs, receiving support from 32 of the college’s 36 members.

Internal divisions within the DUP have been laid bare after successive revolts deposed former leader Arlene Foster and her successor, Mr Poots.

Mr Poots’ demise came only weeks after he narrowly defeated Sir Jeffrey in the leadership contest to succeed Mrs Foster.

Mr Poots’ resignation came after he pressed ahead with reconstituting Stormont’s powersharing Executive alongside Sinn Fein, despite a significant majority of his MPs and MLAs being vociferously opposed to the move.

Party anger at a UK Government pledge to grant Sinn Fein a key concession on Irish language laws was behind the internal opposition to Mr Poots’ decision to nominate a first minister.

Ahead of last night’s executive meeting, Mr Poots told the BBC: “Of course I backed him, I used my proxy vote and I wasn’t able to attend [on Saturday] and that’s as simple as that.”

He said the DUP needed “to look to the future to secure the union,” and added: “That is the purpose of our party and that is what we need to drive towards, ensuring Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom is a certain place.”

Sir Jeffrey has made clear his intent to return from Westminster to assume the First Minister’s job at Stormont.

However, the timeline for that move remains unclear. He would have to trigger a parliamentary by-election in Lagan Valley in order to re-enter the Assembly and it is unclear whether he would want to prompt such a contest in the near future, given the DUP’s recent poor poll ratings.

Ahead of his leadership battle with Mr Poots, the Lagan Valley MP proposed a flurry of new pro-Union groups if elected, but made no mention of the Irish language act in his manifesto.

Sir Jeffrey is due to make his first keynote speech as party leader on Thursday.