Northern Ireland

Jeffrey Donaldson steps down as DUP leader

Party officers have suspended his membership

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he had been subjected to threats
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has stepped down as DUP leader (Liam McBurney/PA)

Jeffrey Donaldson has stepped down as DUP leader with immediate effect.

Gavin Robinson will take over as interim leader, the party has confirmed.

In a statement released just before 1pm today, the DUP said: “In accordance with the party rules, the party officers have suspended Mr Donaldson from membership, pending the outcome of a judicial process.

“The party officers have this morning unanimously appointed Mr Gavin Robinson MP as the interim party leader.”

The shock announcement comes just weeks after Sir Jeffrey made the decision to bring the party back to powersharing in Northern Ireland.

Sir Jeffrey’s leadership saw him steer the party’s two-year boycott of Northern Ireland’s political institutions in protest over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

After protracted negotiations, the DUP agreed to return to Stormont in February following the agreement of a new deal and a series assurances around Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom.

Sir Jeffrey, who has had an almost 40-year career in politics, became DUP leader in July 2021.

His career started with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and in 1985, aged 22, he was the youngest person to be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The 61-year-old’s relationship with former UUP leader David Trimble deteriorated when he led a walkout of the 1998 peace talks after opposing the early release of republican and loyalist prisoners.

He left the party and joined the DUP in January 2004.

He was recognised by the Queen in her 2016 Birthday Honours and was given a knighthood.