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DUP leadership election result: Edwin Poots elected to succeed Arlene Foster as DUP leader

·3-min read
Edwin Poots said he looks forward "to a positive relationship right across Northern Ireland" - PA
Edwin Poots said he looks forward "to a positive relationship right across Northern Ireland" - PA

Edwin Poots has become the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party after winning the first leadership contest in the party’s history.

Mr Poots, the Stormont Agriculture Minister, said it was "an immense honour" to be chosen for the role, having beaten the party's Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson by 19 votes to 17.

In his victory speech Mr Poots said he looked forward "to a positive relationship right across Northern Ireland and with my party colleagues and indeed with people from other parties".

He said: "The opportunities for us to make Northern Ireland a great place after this hundred years has passed and we move into a new hundred years are immense."

The election was called after former leader Arlene Foster resigned as DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister in April, following an internal party revolt.

The 36 members of the party's electoral college, made up of its MPs and Stormont Assembly members, were eligible to vote on Friday in the race.

Julian Smith, who was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 2019 to 2020, tweeted his congratulations to Mr Poots, adding "a tough job ahead - but one which I am sure he will do well".

Speaking briefly to the media as she left party headquarters after casting her ballot, Mrs Foster said: "I voted for the person who will bring the Democratic Unionist Party forward and I think that's very obvious."

Mr Poots will be leader designate until Mrs Foster formally stands down. His election will now go to the party executive for ratification.

Speaking before the results were announced, Strangford MP Jim Shannon said he was supporting Sir Jeffrey as next DUP leader.

"I think Jeffrey has qualities that take him beyond Northern Ireland and across to the mainland," he said, adding: "I think those are statesman-like qualities that the party needs."

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr said his father, the party's founder, would be "immensely proud" that a democratic election was deciding the next leader.

"It's a party that my dad founded with the name democracy in it and this is a democratic decision," he said.

"At last the members, the elected members, are deciding who their leader is. That's a very important decision and I know he would be immensely proud of that today."

As he arrived at headquarters, South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford, who is supporting Mr Poots, said: "I think it's going to be a good day, a good day for democracy inside the Democratic Unionist Party."

The campaign for the first leadership contest in the DUP's 50-year history has been unusual, in so much as the party prevented both men speaking publicly about their candidature.

Party officers insisted the contest should be confined to internal campaigning among the electoral college.

The campaign focused on rank-and-file concerns about DUP internal processes and structures, and wider political challenges facing unionism, in particular contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements, called the Northern Ireland Protocol, that have created new economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.

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