Northern Ireland news

Edwin Poots' campaign falters as party DUP officers name May 14 as date for leadership contest

Edwin Poots named his proposed ministerial team, alongside a plan not to take the first minister's role.  Picture by Mal McCann 

EDWIN Poots' bid to lead the DUP appeared to be faltering last night with campaign insiders voicing concern about a lack of fresh supporters coming forward.

The agriculture minister launched his leadership campaign last Thursday and received a series of endorsements from party colleagues over the next 24 hours. But in the days since, nobody else has come forward to back the Lagan Valley MLA, sparking concern that support for Mr Poots may be ebbing.

Whereas his campaign team were suggesting at the weekend that the former health minister already had the necessary numbers, one insider said yesterday that support was barely reaching double figures – far short of the necessary threshold of 19.

Meanwhile, a source in Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's camp said the DUP Westminster leader had "support from across the MLA group" and is understood to have the backing of at least five fellow MPs.

"After the Poots camp claiming they'd got the numbers, they're clearly a lot more nervous now," the source said.

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It has been suggested that Mr Poots naming of his proposed ministerial team, alongside his plan not to take the first minister's role may have backfired.

Speculation that the contest could be much closer than the agriculture minister's supporters initially believed came as the DUP's party officers said the leadership election will take place next Friday, May 14.

The party's MPs and MLAs will also elect a deputy leader but it remained unclear last night whether former North Belfast MP Lord Nigel Dodds would be putting his name forward for re-election. The no confidence letter that led to Arlene Foster's resignation last week, targeted the party's entire leadership, including Mr Dodds.

Nominations for both roles will close tomorrow, according to DUP chairman Lord Morrow, who said the meeting will be held virtually due to coronavirus regulations.

"Each nominated candidate for leader of the party will be given 10 minutes to speak to the online meeting and each candidate for deputy leader will be given five minutes to speak," he said.

"Following this online meeting a voting station will open and voting will be by secret ballot."

The winners are to be announced at 5pm on the day of the election.

It also emerged last night that Jim Wells, a strong supporter of Mr Poots, will be entitled to vote in the leadership contest. The South Down MLA had the party whip withdrawn three years ago after a fall-out with the party's senior backroom staff.

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